By Samuel Estefanous
A couple of weeks ago, I was attached to an insurance underwriting ace traveling deep into the ‘wild wild South’ and one good evening found myself listening to a retired frontier police officer at an old garrison outpost called Turimi.
The first thing that dislodged the usual presumption of appearance was his age. He leads an active labor intensive semi rural life at a ripe age of 87! He speaks three languages with such ease that one would be baffled listening to him making a smooth effortless transition from Amharigna to the local tongue of Hamer or Geleb. He says that he was the designated translator when the Last Emperor paid a visit to the locality ages ago, ‘and guess what?’, he had mused ‘I had touched the hand of His Imperial Majesty…to the horror and chagrin of the entire entourage.’
What has changed since? The Chinese tarmac, perhaps? Strings of trendy ‘lodges’ that cater for the presumptuous ferenjis and phony local tourists who travel long distances and incur huge expenses to “visit” the natives? I am not saying the tarmacs are the roads to perdition for the pastoralists, neither am I taking issues with the motifs of the tourists or the ethical question of paying to visit fellow human beings (the human zoos of decadent Europe) but something doesn’t feel right…
One cannot help but inquire, what is in it for the natives? ‘They drink, Sir…with the handouts from the tourists and the NGOs, they drink to their heart’s content; they are a hardy honest Nation but they drink a little too hard, too… they weren’t like this.’ the daughter of the retired officer had noted. Hm, the Natives, just like those in the Reserves for the First Nations in North America and Australia.
Never mind, it looks like the late Emperor was the first and only head of State or Government who had cared and talked to the locals on a personal level since they talk of him with such warmth and tenderness as if the imperial visit had taken place three years ago or something.
He didn’t have to offer the right to self determination up to and including secession on a silver platter to care. He just did what he did out of a sense of Duty. Ironically the stalwart advocates of the inviolable right of Nationalities have hardly made any headway in terms of engaging the locals. What I am trying to say is you might as well contend that in reality the last five decades were half a century of transition to the abyss.
For the past three decades EPRDFites had sworn in the name of the Nation and Nationalities of Ethiopia, any public statement would be bereft of a measure of political correctness if it didn’t incorporate the phrase at least sideways. The Supreme Law of the Land is presumably a Social Contract signed and executed between and among the Nationalities of Ethiopia (but to my mind it is a voidable contract between and among false wily self designated agents and executed with impaired consent), however it has nothing to show for it.
On the contrary a considerable portion of any given Nationality speaks of the Emperor with such fondness that, you can’t help but feel the Nationalities of Ethiopia have always been herded and managed, it is only the style that changes. You know, just like Tewodros Kassahun has sung.
Of course that is only half the story, actually EPRDF is guilty of a much graver sin of sedition. It has sown the undying seed of suspicion and animosity among the said nationalities and suddenly reversed the course and declared, ‘alright listen up Nation and Nationalities of Ethiopia, get back on your marks…that was a false start!’.
A false start? A false start of three decades? At field tracks of athletics a false start spans just seconds but in Ethiopian politics after three decades of painful, deadly and costly Nation building, the skipper declares ‘folks we are heading back to the docks to begin from zero nautical miles, we were towing you on the wrong course all these past three decades’.
In the past three decades…
1-EPRDF has raised a solid army of uncompromising, thoroughly indoctrinated cadres. Emotional baggage aside, these are invaluable resources just like any other segment of the Ethiopian public, the country has invested billions and billions of dollars to educate and maintain them. Suddenly and just like that one fine good morning the vast majority of them found themselves as irrelevant and undesirable spongers. They were told ‘move it or lose it, comrades!’ Some of them are honest, capable and dedicated public servants, one cannot deny that…but they are good and resourceful only in the context and guidance of Revolutionary Democracy…looks like we have irredeemably lost them.
2-Judging by the memoirs of their own top guns and candid public statements, the system has contracted the virus of terminal vice and avarice at its very inception. I don’t think individual EPRDFites were born with these traits. It is the system that has bent them backwards. They were victims of the system they were serving blind folded. I am afraid this army of ill educated and ‘capable’ force, which is steeped into and has mastered the higher arts of intrigues and sabotage, might become an existential threat for the Nation unless handled with care.
Maybe they will be cared for after all. I mean the Premier has given his word they wouldn’t be abandoned, didn’t he?
3-Children of the FDRE Constitution are coming into the mainstream. The country they know was founded on the ‘ruins’ of the old Nation and they are raised to distrust it. I don’t buy the contention that they are raised to hate it, but they sure are groomed to distrust it.
Particularly in Oromia, the Region that straddles across the width and breadth of the country, young folks under the age of thirty are unwittingly marginalized and they are made strangers in their own country, nah, region of birth chiefly on account of being denied the right to speak the working language of the Federal government. What are we gonna do about them? Where in God’s Good Name do we find the future mayor of the Metropolis? I mean just any possible scenario…
4- The mystical fabric that holds a Nation together, the sense of belongingness that mysteriously draws us together isn’t entirely lost-thank God for that-but it has been so brutally torched by EPRDFites that it is nothing short of a miracle which has sustained it. In all fairness the FDRE Constitution also traces the founding of a common nation on the attributes of “common outlooks”; but naked tribalism has held such premium currency that we don’t even think such a thing was mentioned in the Constitution.
5- Vague elusive rhetoric was in vogue. They still are. This rhetoric has poisoned our lives and has made us incredibly suspicious of authorities and political parties. Worst of all they have made us judge the ‘others’ summarily. The ugly culture of demonizing and summarily judging others has gained such momentum that reading Lidetu Ayalewu has become anathema. Now some politicians are having the true taste of their own medicines. In this connection I would like to draw attention to Andargachew Asegid’s book and interview. Apparently the vile culture was seeded by none other than that infamous generation and perfected by pundits and activists of post Derg Ethiopia.
6- We have near zero institutions of government that function professionally. To date public institutions are formed and built around the person of a given chief. This trend is certain to outlive the incumbent.
7-The ‘balkanization’ of financial institutions has hit the zenith. Growing numbers of banks and insurance companies are named and branded after a given ethnic group. The irony of it all is…some of them are ‘Internationals’. In the good old days commerce was the perfect medium that counteracts the isolationist tendencies of governments. Commerce breaks barriers. Freedom to trade is the foundation of most legal systems. Trade and commerce bring people together. That is why folks inquire of a place ‘ezia gurage yelem ende?’. Gurage has become an epitome of enterprise and free commerce, no wonder they are one of the major ethinic groups who have refrained from forming……Bank International.
Looks like in all aspects of life one needs a surrogate ethnic group to stay alive let alone thrive except for some unfortunate established town folks.
8-Most dangerous of all, the yawning gap between the haves and the destitute is frighteningly widening, no wonder the National Statistics Agency wouldn’t release the report. If you ask me, more than three quarters of the Nation’s disposable wealth is controlled and expended by less than 5% of the population. Hence the hyper inflation that has reached record levels.
9-Ethnicization of politics has crippled the good motives of some of the good meaning real mavericks in the government. Ethnicity has become a tortoise shell. Every politician is accountable to his/her branch of the ruling coalition. I kinda think if the Premier so much as raises his voice at some unruly minor chief, the latter would pipe back into the void and begin speaking in ethnic terms and I would be surprised if the former doesn’t back down.
10-In our long history political power has never been earned or won, it has been ASSUMED. The Dergue was not any less a democrat than EPRDF. The Late Emperor is vilified in classrooms of higher education for ‘dispensing a Constitution’…the true fact of the matter is he bravely and courageously broke a tradition that had lasted thousands of years. But what has changed since? Nothing…the Ethiopian public is always given a Constitution.
Even the reigning Premier betrayed a thinly veiled secret when he promised the ‘loser’ parties of the last election a power sharing scheme. In plain terms and technically he is going against the will of the people. The people’s will might as well go to hell, I will not leave you out in the cold…he says…not in so many words, of course.
8-Last but not least the silent majority is indeed quietly taking stock. The silence is deafening.
I have said this before and I will say it again, make no mistake, EPRDF wasn’t and isn’t an extra terrestrial. Actually it is quintessentially Ethiopian. Its monumental colossal failure is our collective loss. You know why, because at the end of the day for their epic blunder, we are the ones collecting the bills and paying the price. And of course the poor country was thrown three decades back.
Every time I take issues with pro EPRDFites, they begin a long list of people from marginalized ethnic groups who have assumed higher positions, the growing length of asphalt and paved roads, the tripled capacity of the national electric grid, the number of nationalities who are learning in their own mother tongue etc
But judging by their proven track record wouldn’t the Imperial or the Dergue government have done the same given the chance? Maybe even more? Guess what, without all the tragic loss of life and the trillions of dollars in lost resources. By now we would have long joined the ranks of middle income countries!
In reality, these days when we are tuned to the local news, the entire vibe complete with the slogans reminds us of our childhood. One more time we are fighting the Woyane, they are edging down but we are gonna bury them alive in the trenches of their own making. We will rout out the vermin amidst us…we have come full circle…three decades lost…
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