By Samuel Estefanous
At the pick of the rosy spring of our youth, featured on a cover of a graduation bulletin, I had read Abe Lincoln’s memorable statement- “with malice towards none; with charity for all!” Bless the gentle soul who had picked the timeless segment from the second inaugural speech of the embattled President of the United States. I have read the speech a number of times since yet every single time it never ceases to elevate my mood a notch or two up. Here is the concluding paragraph from which the noble statement was taken-
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
In those days I dare say it most certainly reflected the state of our collective positive inclinations. How naïve and blissfully hopeful we were! Nothing could break our dogged optimism. We were ever taking measures by the degree and extent of the content in the glass. With the apparent invincibility of adolescence, we took up on ourselves to fill in the remaining empty space instead of blaming our predecessors for the vacuum. To the disdain and utter distaste of our seniors, we used to talk with messianic overtones as well.
However one could say our singular collective distinctive characteristics got expression in the civilized- and not so civilized- protest against the brand of ethnic federalism advanced, promoted and advocated by the incumbent. It has certainly bonded us, if not inseparably, reasonably well. It was like an article of faith or something among the youth of the 90s. Implicitly, no one was allowed to stray from the sacred credo. If one did, he would have been casted away. And once casted away thus, it is tantamount to scaling the summit of Mount Everest to ever make it back to the folds of the society. Incidentally, just try to relate that with the estranged children of the 1995 Constitution and the virtual wall of ethnic isolationism that stands dividing them like an impregnable Catacomb.
Anyway, it is this irony of summarily casting out one for his/her political opinion and denying him/her any measure of fellowship and yet embracing such ideals as ‘malice towards none’ that used to fret us on no end. I mean I know a number of folks who used to feel physical revulsion at the sight of EPRDFites like they were some kinda slimy toad or renegade criminal outcasts. It looks like we have come a long way from that era of puritanical exclusiveness. All the same, I don’t think the transition is effected owing to embracing pluralism as much as succumbing to the dictates of destiny. Slowly but surely, we have come to accept an ethnically fragmented Ethiopia out of necessity or by choice which is going to outlive the current Constitution for far too long.
After much bickering amongst ourselves, after vicious indulgence on the ‘virtues’ of nativism and after wallowing in the murky incomprehensible art of governance a la Revolutionary Democracy, it looks like we have eventually settled for the wrath or benedictions of destiny . By the way, I have always marveled at the driving force behind the founding of Destiny Ethiopia and the four scenarios it had charted out for the country. Hm, looks like it was destined to fizzle out much quicker than it was created. You see, destiny doesn’t stand active interference to derail the predetermined course of fate. Don’t take it the wrong way but both Napoleons I and Hitler singled out destiny as the ultimate arbiter of their mega adventures.
In our case, one has only to listen to some ‘inspired sermons’ routinely delivered by the diehard supporters of the Premier to learn the fact that they have pinned their hopes on one person for the salvation and redemption of the nation. They hardly mention the Party nor do they care for the rest members of the leadership. Their support and devotion begins and ends with the Premier and the trendy catchphrases he expertly coins to galvanize euphoric followers. The ultimate question is- would it last?
The other day my good friend treated me to select compilations of songs of praise effusively composed in honor of the Premier basically to ward off any attempt that tries to question the acts and speeches of the Abichu. In their unquestioned devotion they have elevated him to the status of some kinda canonized deliverer. He has become the Abichu and to say the tendency is unnerving is a gross understatement.
Anyone one could see that these days most Ethiopians have come to have second thoughts about Mengistu. Courtesy of the memoirs published by strings of high ranking officers and officials of the time, the one sided narration that had depicted him as devil incarnate is broken. He was a humble army ordinance officer who rose to prominence by his skill of oratory and superior quality of leadership. It was such a pity that his own hard core supporters had isolated him from the ranks of his comrades and bestowed on him the fateful title of the koratu. No wonder he understood it as the license and mandate to determine the fate of millions of Ethiopians the way he saw it right. Remember the saying flood carries one away while singing a lullaby-wuha swesd eyasasak new? This course has been tried and had failed, the temptation is strong but the unfailing wisdom lies in fighting it back.
I wonder if the Premier and company know the naked fact that following his lead, every Prosperity chieftain is going around and conducts himself like ‘little Caesars’. And little Caesars they are, the way they talk and act like they are middle age absolute monarchs whose will should be taken as law. Dergue, too, had an army of little Caesars who had double quickened its ultimate suicidal fall.
At the other extreme there are fire spitting detractors who contend that even if Ethiopia’s ultimate deliverance has become a reality, the fact that it is brought about by a certain Abiy makes it an abomination. I am not gonna lie, however much I take issues with the Premier, the latter category plain creeps me out. There is something sinister and diabolical in their opposition. They sound like they are after the person of the Premier and not his policies or thoughts.
If one is to reflect on the post imperial politics of Ethiopia- disengaging himself from the claws of sectarianism and nativism- he is certain to find the culprits in the polarized extreme forces of destruction that has pushed the Nation to the brink. You see, it is political impotency that makes folks dwell on the badness of the other side; otherwise we would never fail to strike a balance to work for the good of the common nation without losing our distinctiveness. We could have shaken on the common denominators and could have declared vive la difference. You know why? Because a healthy difference is good for the Nation; it is a treasure to be nurtured not a menace to be casted away. Yes, if indeed we are after the good of the Nation and not out there chasing our private cheap interests.
Banking on the apparent unflinching support it believed it had got from the general public, the Dergue had declared it is either my way or the highway. In its formative years, the Dergue was incredibly forthcoming to involve all sectors of the society and in good faith tried to tap from the knowledge and experience of the intellectuals. It had convened a council of knowledgeable elders and professionals to advise it on regular basis, it had suspended the revised imperial constitution and had designated a team of reputed intellectuals to draft a new republican constitution. But all these noble endeavors were counteracted and hijacked by populist agendas.
Asked about forging a coalition government with the warring factions at the dying days of the Dergue, Mengistu Hailemariam had looked incredulous…’you mean with Sha’ebiya and Woyane? Are you out of your mind?’ He had retorted. In his mind the Holy Grail of Ethiopia’s salvation is to be pursued and exclusively determined by himself and cohorts. The Dergue has dismissed out of hand any attempt at acknowledging Shabiya and Woyane as legitimate forces that had a tiny winy stake in the fate of the Nation. On the contrary the Dergue had embarked on massive witch hunting to purify the Nation and the army from the curse of Woyane-ism. It had purged its own best minds and top guns at trumped up charges of colluding with the enemy. To this day Comrade Mengistu wonders why the army had abandoned barracks and had trekked back home-holding up guns like chefeqa. He doesn’t allow the slightest doubt to creep in to his head that he might have been wrong. It is this kind of fanaticism which is going to ruin us as a Nation.
This outrageous self worthiness and self righteousness is yet going to wreak havoc with us. No one single person or party is the single one arbiter of the fate of this Nation. Guess what? every sprinting budding political group comes out waving the banner of inclusiveness only until such time the old guard is securely disbanded and incapacitated. Afterwards they begin to give themselves an aura of royalty.
Who would deny the fact that in its early days the Dergue was a scion of egalitarianism at its best? Who could have declared land to the tiller and true to its word make the serfs the true owners of the land? Once and for all times the Dergue has abolished the cruel system of keeping indentured servants and sharecropping peasants. If Ethiopia was indeed a prison of Nationalities, it was the Dergue which had busted the gates. Question is how could have it failed to capitalize on these colossal gains and was unable to forge forward?
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