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Is ‘Elite’ the New Political Dog-whistle for Culture War in Ethiopia?

“Ethiopia Teen spirit” – (by Alula M. Abate)

By Alula M. Abate
June 8, 2020

The college graduation photos that I keep in my office desk announces to all that stroll in here that I am a proud Ethiopian dad of  ‘elite’ children  who earned their degrees from Stanford, Colombia and Oxford respectively.  I tear up each time I see it for our journey, like many Ethiopian immigrants, was a highly-unlikely one. I just wish that their mother, whom we lost 4 years go much sooner than she needed to go, was here to see it as well.  As painful as it is, it’s comforting to know that she’s looking down on us and smiling too.  Our precious youngsters are now alumni of the same intuitions as some of the most powerful people in the world including former presidents and global leaders in business, military, education, journalism, engineering, arts, academia and so much more. So should our beloved kids apologize for being an elite?  

In the context of Ethiopia  tragically the word ‘elite’ recalls  the dark ages of  the Derg era and the red-terror period when the term ‘adhari (elite) was pistolized to justify the “elimination” of the educated class, businessmen and royal family members. The madness reached new heights when it was employed by the notorious Khmer Rouge Communist Party in Cambodia that massacred millions in the name of being an ‘elite’ including anyone that wore an eye glass. Given this ugly history associated with the word,  my parental instinct tells me that ‘no,  our kids will not apologize for being an elite.’

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the word ‘elite’ denotes highly talented and skilled individuals in various fields by virtue of their education and position exercise wide influence. In Ethiopian traditional definition that’s called a blessing.
‘No, our kids will not apologize for being an elite.’

The libertarian-conservative American political commentator George Will said it better than anyone: “ People are fine with elites as long as they aren’t politicians.”  For the talking heads class, of course,  “elitist” may be an epithet, but they take a dim view of “elitism” more often than they are able to define it.  “One kind word can change someone’s entire day.” -Unknown. I say one kind word can change a country forever. “Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.” -Pearl Strachan Hurd
The looming danger is that peddling elite-mass conflict within the opposition (now pro government camp) can keep a democracy from flowering as fast as it should be by discouraging independent groups and individuals at a very critical time for Ethiopia. “Drawing on the Chinese [failed pro democracy experience] activists’ own speeches, writings, and declarations, it shows how elitism among opposition intellectuals made them skeptical about popular sovereignty and hostile to workers and peasants as political allies,” states Daniel Kelliher in his seminal peer-reviewed journal article Keeping Democracy Safe from the Masses: Intellectuals and Elitism in the Chinese Protest Movement. “It compares the Chinese case with instances of democratization in eastern Europe and Latin America in order to identify the conditions that make the transition from broad-based protest to a democracy movement possible.”

‘No,  our kids will not apologize for being an elite.’

A few months ago NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviewed  noted American journalist and author Joel Stein about his book: “In Defense of Elitism, Why I’m Better Than You and You’re Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book.” According to NPR the writer “concludes that President Trump won office by attacking elites. And, in a humorous way at least, Stein set out to defend them. He argues that we really don’t face a battle against the elite but a battle between differing elites. Donald Trump the candidate once said so, noting that his supporters are wealthy in many cases and have bigger boats. So Stein calls it a divide between the boat elite and the intellectual elite.”

In the end, ‘elite’ or ‘not elite,’  let’s not pivot to creating an unnecessary culture war and division among our people. Isn’t our toxic ethnic politics enough?  This time it’s up to the supporters of the ruling party in Ethiopia to lead by example of ‘Medemer’ and  bringing people together, not the other way around.  You and I, all of us, owe it to our children’s future. And in my case I owe it to their mother too!

‘No,  our kids will not apologize for being an elite.’

Thank you and God bless.
You can contact Alula M. Abate at

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  1. Thank you so much. Well said. You nailed it. Congratulations to you and your wonderful and successful children. Ethiopia deserves more elites like them not less. Ethiopia’s best days are still a head thanks to its brilliant young people.

  2. “People are shitty for a lot of reasons. Sometimes they’re just shitty people. Sometimes people have been shitty to them and, even though they don’t realize it, they take that shitty upbringing and go out into the world and treat others the same way. Sometimes they’re shitty because they’re afraid. Sometimes they choose to be shitty to others before others can be shitty to them. So it’s like self-defensive shittiness.” ― Jennifer Niven, Holding Up the Universe

    “When you say “I” and “my” too much, you lose the capacity to understand the “we” and “our”.”
    ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

    “I think that hate is a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding.”
    ― Tennessee Williams, Sweet Bird of Youth

    “Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.”
    ― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

    “Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another.”
    ― Emma Goldman

    “When you really know somebody you can’t hate them. Or maybe it’s just that you can’t really know them until you stop hating them.”
    ― Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead

    “Mama used to say, you have to know someone a thousand days before you can glimpse her soul.”
    ― Shannon Hale, Book of a Thousand Days

    “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
    ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

    “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
    ― Abraham Lincoln

    “The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own.”
    ― Willa Cather

    “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
    ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

    “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
    ― Ernest Hemingway

  3. The spread of libertarian ideas as propounded by the Libertarian International Organization has saved Ethiopia from socialist ‘democracy’ of murder and theft. We need more of them in every country, and must avoid slogans as the author suggests, not less!

  4. Very good read and educational. I hope those who need to heed it get the point although I doubt it. Hard to teach old dogs new tricks, But we have to keep trying and you may succeeded who knows? I pray you do for the sake of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Enough is enough. Beka please.

  5. First, I would like to congratulate you and your late wife for bearing and nurturing your kids to be what they became; keep encouraging them to reach newer heights.Your children must have inherited their genes from one or both of you, but that is often not enough in life. What is equally important is to cultivate the innate abilities to attain the ultimate potential. You seem to have realized both.

    Second, those who coined ‘adhare’ referring to successful people were themselves inflicted with deep sense of inferiority complexes for their failures to amount to anything in life, and so wanted to pull down others who succeeded academically, professionally, and in business for the sole purpose of getting temporary relief from their own utter failures under cover of utopia egalitarianism of the communist era. The Ethiopian versions of the era, grouped under this or that ‘revolutionaries’, were nothing more than apes who did not have their own original philosophies to underpin their beliefs. The successors to those apes continued the destruction of Ethiopia under covers of this or that ‘liberation fronts’ with the sole aims of liberating themselves from poverty on the backs of others, since they could not rid themselves of poverty in normal ways by being educated, professional, investors, etc. That tradition continues today in the forms of ‘opposition political parties’ that do not (and/or offer) have clear alternative policies (platforms) to better solve the complex socioeconomic problems of the nation. Their main agenda seems to be to generate employment for the self under cover of ‘political party’.

    Ato Alula has shown the way for others to emulate.

  6. I am sure your children are sellouts,
    they are sellouts not because they are elites but because they were raised by you .

  7. Mintesinot,

    Wey Mintesinot, feeling shitty again, ha? Aizo, aizo, aizo take a deep breath (one, hulet, 3) take a shot of areke and repeat after me “Hostility is the root of hate. people run away from me because I am a shifty person to be around with not because they are sellouts. I am to change my shimmy-shammy view The danger of mono-culturalism begins with hostility and aggression towards a group of people. I wish they can find a vaccine for it just like corona. i will be the first to take it.

  8. Mitmita

    I am not feeling shitty today so I am sorry to disappoint you, I will try to remember your methods incase I feel shity some other day in the future , even though I feel as if your methods will not work for me. But also it might, I will not know for sure unless I try it.I might get surprised.

    Even If I repeat it after you today it will not be sincere and also you will not hear me , my suggestion is share your feelings to someone physically present near you. No man/woman is an island . They will not all run away , just limit your hostility to the minimum , all alcohol does is cover real feelings with artificial temporary feelings . It is not holy water / Tebel as some think it is. Alcohol is for celebrating not to solve cabin fever or other similar feelings .

    My suggestion for you is to try new methods besides alcohol , don’t beat yourself up , keep your head up and try to say positive things about yourself , you will find someone that does not run away from you if you practice not being so negative about yourself . If that doesn’t work seek a professional help, even if there is no vaccine available for it there may get be another form of healing remedy available for what you are going through , from what I sensed from some people because of the pandemic, cabin fever is becoming a serious concern for many so you shouldn’t feel so bad thinking it only happens to you. Best of luck!

  9. Mintesinot,

    Amen. Amen It’s okay forget areke, try bunna. That works too. We all know you’re much better than you allow yourself to be. Be better. The time demands it. Ethiopia demands it. Your own children demand it.

    Hat off to you, till next time.


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