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The Man in the Arena—Eskinder Nega and Those Who Normalize Discrimination & Injustice

Eskinder Nega _ Ethiopia
Eskinder Nega soon after he was released from prison

Getaneh Kassahun 
April 29, 2020

One of my favorite US presidents, and one of four to grace the big skies in Mt Rushmore, the 26th POTUS Theodore Roosevelt, a year after he left office, traveled to Europe and delivered one of the best speeches at Sorbonne in Paris (my hero PM Aklilu HW’s alma mater).   

The speech was about the responsibilities of citizenship and what it takes to make a difference. It’s also a sharp indictment against cynics and critics who looked down at people who are trying to make society fair and a better place while they watch as bystanders. Here is part of Teddy Roosevelt’s speech: 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1910, Sorbonne.

(I encourage you to google the speech, read it in its entirety and muse (or rather weep) how America ended up with the Orange Matter 110 years later.)

Eskinder has always been, and is–the Man in the Arena: in print journalism, in and out of jail for over two decades, activism, political party—he’s in the Arena and doing it with absolute integrity and pure intention (a rarity in a county with a cesspool of politicians with no integrity and fraudulent intentions  and outright mugger ‘activists’). This past weekend and last few days, he was with displaced people, in prison, out of prison and then with families of assassinated young men. Some background:  

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic where everything ‘non-essential’ is shut-down and people are ordered to quarantine and practice ‘social distancing’, the Addis Ababa City administration, led by astroturfing ‘mayor’ has been demolishing ‘illegal’ homes of non-Oromo residents’ and throwing families out on the streets and bused several hundred of Amhara daily laborers back to so-called Amhara region—essentially people have been deported from their own country. At the same time period, organized Oromo youth who come from provinces, ‘Qeerroo’—with carpentering tools, iron-sheets and building materials in hand– were taking ‘procession’ of green areas in some parts of the city: fencing plots off and erecting sheds—with no law enforcement action insight. Apparently, demographic re-engineering was so an essential government business it must continue under Coronavirus SOE. The “Oromo-ization” of Addis Ababa has been a top priority for all OLF factions, though they differ on the how. Some extremists like Bekele Geriba desperately want to do it the medieval way—quick mass ethnic cleansing and genocide, while others want to do it slowly—just as described above. Similar demolitions and displacements of non-Oromo Ethiopians has been ongoing, at various scales in Addis Ababa and its environs since Apartheid TPLF Pillaging Racket has been expelled to Mekelle.  

This troubling and persistent tacit special treatment of one ethnic group where those from hundreds of KM are sponsored to “settle” while some long standing residents are displaced and discriminated, is a window to the other side of the government of PM Abiy. 

True to character, Eskinder was in the Arena. As has been widely documented, he met (from what I can from a safe physical distance) the disparate displaced families—their belongings and hard-earned household items scattered with the bulldozer crew destroying more homes in the background. Eskinder heard the cries of men and mothers and promised them he will be their voice. He advised them to be peaceful at any-time—despite the violence they face. The next day, he was arrested by Police—accused of violating ‘Coronavirus SOE’. Eskinder was the only public figure was able to shade light on a hidden and dark shenanigan of this masquerading ethnically tinged regime, as he has done many times since he was released from Apartheid TPLF’s dungeon. Eskinder’s effort exposed the government that craves and seeks international veneer of legitimacy. Amenity International has issued a well-documented report on April 29, 2020, titled “Forced evictions in Addis Ababa render jobless workers homeless amid Covid-19”. At the time of this writing, Police has refused to return Eskinder’s phone and is invading his privacy, presumably, illegally accessing his private data. 

Eskinder’s actions cannot be without controversy and thus legitimate criticism is expected. For example, last week I expressed my dismay at the “Peacock vs black-maned lion” brouhaha as an unnecessary topic though personally I don’t like the birdy thing which doesn’t exist in Ethiopia and is alien to people’s psyche. However, given the pandemic era and so many changes are taking place, I felt this shouldn’t takeaway further bandwidth from others. But that is just one data point in a continuum. 

Many people may critique whether he has organized his newly formed party well enough, whether his activism time or journalist period is more productive. He may err, some of his initiatives might have been more fine tuned, other not pursued, etc. That’s all fair as Eskinder is in the arena.

However, no one should be cheering (and even wishing) his arrest and losing his freedom yet again. Especially more so those who used to dispense too much you-know-what and too much ink about freedom and democracy and all that. Alas that’s what has come to pass (it incensed me to write up this post).  Case in point: former Ginbot-7 PR, the constantly foot-in-mouth, loose cannon, with severely impaired judgment on many important issues, Ephrem Madebo—upon hearing the arrest of Eskinder, blurted out a twit—supporting the imprisonment of Eskinder. Two years ago, he was all talk about freedom and democracy and all that before he became (with informal role) part of the docile sold out pseudo opposition party. This party abandoned the Addis Ababa people and turned a blind eye and deaf ears on displacements and government led naked ethnic nepotisms—in exchange for nothing more than mere Palace gossip (“oh, shush! it’s a bit of a secret! but I tell you:  PM Abiy told me this and that. Oh my God, how much he knows, I tell you!”), facetime and more pictures with the Great Leader and slap in the back. What a farce!

Normalizing Ethnic-Nepotism and Discrimination 

Foot-in-the-mouth Ephrem was not the only one who blurted approving vomit about Eskinder’s arrest. Some former Ginbot-7 activists (and their tentacles in the diaspora) and opportunist jackals giggled and sneered at Eskinder’s arrest (though many were forced to lick their spits upon Eskinder’s prompt release). Some other ignorant weasels, from the comfort of their sidelines and away from the horror of the displaced mothers, were also equating imperfections of Eskinder, who gave everything and more, as somehow improper. 

What’s surprising is these people don’t give a damn about tens of thousands who’re being left homeless, displaced and traumatized right in front of them, a few miles from where they sip their macchiatos. We have seen this for the last two years. You would think at least the aggrieved deserve their complete silence when few individuals and groups like Eskinder and his team are trying to shed light on cynical ethnically motivated injustice. But no! Not only will they ignore the plight of the people and parroting the regime’s talking points, they go out of their way to make naked nepotism and discrimination based on ethnicity normalized. Somehow, sneering and mocking someone who has given all and attempts to be the voice of the voiceless is the new “woke” and virtue signaling! Thank you, our 3D-chess geniuses! 

But in the end the invertebrate nitpickers, chin-stroking bystanders and shameful virtue signalers will not count. As Teddy Roosevelt said, the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. The credit belongs to the doer, the one in the arena. Thank you Eskinder! 

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