By Dr. Solomon Abedom
As I watched this year’s Epiphany program in Gondar via social media, thousands of miles away, I remembered how I used to enjoy these days as a child in Gondar. Emotions are high, as Gondar celebrates it after harsh wartime. The tourists from other nations are not there as before, but the diaspora community has come to the city in huge numbers, with a record number of flights reported by Ethiopian Airlines, 23 flights in a day.
Telling a story about your own childhood place could be too romantic and skewed to one side. Of course, one may narrate positively about the place and society where he/she grows up. It is natural. But when others talk about that very truth you have known since your childhood, then you can say to yourself, that is right, it was not only me that I felt that way, but it is the truth about that place. I am talking about the awareness of being Ethiopian or Ethiopiawinet. It does not mean that the Ethiopianism of people from Gondar is superior to people in other places of Ethiopia. But when fellow citizens in other parts of the country noticed it easily while visiting Gondar during the holiday time, I dared to reflect on it. So let me first provide what four guests said the past few days about Gondar. Then I will also include three people’s perspectives who are originally from Gondar but now in Western countries: one very famous diaspora and two scholars. Finally, I will reflect on why Gondar is a place for mutual respect. And I hope it stays that way! (NB: At times, when we gonderian say Gondar, it means all the region of Gondar, not the capital city where the Fasil Castle resides).
Visitors’ view on Gondar.
Mr. Obang Metho (Honorary Dr., human rights activist):
“It is a great honor to be in Gondar, the city of patriots where all the citizens are welcome and feel at home. …Gondar is the one and only Medieval Capital of Ethiopia. It was founded by Emperor Fasiledas in 1636 and was the capital of the country for the next two centuries. I love Gondar and her precious people. Gondar is a unique city where ኢትዮጵያዊነት Ethiopiawinet or (Ethiopianism), genuine patriotism or national pride is the feeling of love, self-respect, unity, freedom, peace, devotion, and sense of attachment to the motherland and humanity. In Gondar, loving ETHIOPIA is more than a feeling or selling an ideology. ኢትዮጵያዊነት is not demanded, it is a way of life, passionate love of country and compatriots, a culture of unity and empathy for Ethiopians in Ethiopia and abroad! Thank you to the beautiful people of Gondar for loving our beloved country of Ethiopia and all her precious people. Long Live ETHIOPIA”
Mr. Obang, the founder and executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), from the Gambella region, said the following extraordinary expression on Facebook, on 19.01.2022, while he was on his way to experience one of the most memorable celebrations of Epiphany (ጥምቀት) in Gondar: “Ethiopianism is not demanded, it is a way of life.” This is deep. It goes far beyond the political emotions that are surfacing now in the age after TPLF’s influence in the country seems to cease.
Taye Bogale (AAU Lecturer and Activist):
“… ሁሉም ቢሆን እንደ ጎንደር፣ እናት ሀገሬ ኢትዮጵያ ሰላም ታገኝ ነበር.. ” Literally translated as “God be my testimony, if everyone is like Gondar, Ethiopia could be at peace, …, anyone can go, see and testify”.
Mr. Taye listed evidence of why he said that on his Facebook post on 17.01.2022. Among other things, he mentioned how the people stood together with the struggle of Oromo people and elites like Bekele Gerba and others.
Mr. Muktarovich Ousmanova (Lecturer at Jigjiga University):
“… ቴዲ አፍሮ “ጎንደር የአንዲት ኢትዮጵያ ዋልታና ማገር…” Literally translated as “ If anyone wants to understand why the famous singer Teddy Afro sang that “Gondar is one – Ethiopia pillar and wall,” then come and experience it yourself. Mother Gondar May your peace abound.”
Journalist Metasebia Ketsela (from ESAT):
“በተለየ ሁኔታ የጎንደር ህዝብ ፖለቲካ ያዉቃል ብየ ነው የማስበው፤ በሃገር ጉዳይ ላይ ያለው አመለካከት ከህጻን አንስቶ እስከ አዋቂ በጣም ነው ሚገርመው …”Literally translated as “ I think that the people of Gondar knows politics in special way. The perspective of the people, from kids to adults, about the issues of the country is amazing. … we have visited amusement places and we heard the Lyrics they used in their music about the Westerns, leaders, events, … ; we saw the posters in different places … from small children to grownups, it is in Gondar that I saw people who understand well on what is going on in the country. … I do not know when this started but they have a huge awareness and participation in the affairs of the country. …”
Metasebia reported the above on 18.01.2020 in Gondar, after one of the ESAT journalists asked her “what is unique in Gondar?” She observed the people, their songs, their language and gestures, even the posters around the city. And testified that the awareness of the people about Ethiopiawinet and it’s the wellbeing is unique.
The view of Gonderian.
The Famous Tamagn Beyene (Artist and Activist):
“… ጎንደሬ ነኝ ስል የሚያኮራኝ በኢትዮጲያዊነቴ ብዥታ የሌለው ህዝብ ስለሆነ ነው። …” Literally translated as “It has been 30 years ago since I left this place. What fascinates me is that, as I used to know it when I was a child, without abandoning your Ethiopianism covenant, without being extremist, just for the sake of Ethiopia, dressing its flag; like your forefathers, broadening your heart for the sake bigger country; I am pleased to see you all. … my pride when I say that I am Gondere is that the people do not have confusion about their Ethiopianism.“
Dr. Hailu Kebede (Technical Advisor, Reservoir Technologies)
I know Hailu as one of the best students when we were at Fasiledes high school in Gondar. He is a physicist from Addis Ababa University, worked as Well Technology Engineer in the oil and gas industry, and is now working as a technical advisor of reservoir technologies in the petroleum sector in Southern Norway. He worked at Mekele University, and he said, we have grown up with people from different ethnic groups without discrimination in Gondar. Even Eritreans currently feel at home in Gondar, and Gondar’s Ethiopianism concept is beyond the ethnic-based divisive boundaries. Especially, the time of Epiphany is something that unites us all.
Dr. Netsanet (Molecular Biology Researcher)
She is one of the brightest students at Fasiledes high school and she joined Dilla university later. Now she lives and works in northern Norway as a molecular biology researcher in an academic institution with her husband and four children. According to her, Gondar has a special place in her heart. That is not only because she grew up there and most of her extended family members still live there, but also she learned important life lessons on the concept of Ethiopianism built on respect, the values of togetherness, the beauty of diversity and so much more. She describes Gondar as a place where Ethiopians from every corner live in harmony. She grew up having friends from different ethnic groups including from Eritrea and celebrated Christian holidays with Muslim neighbors and vice versa. Ethnic identity was not an issue even when she chose her partner in marriage. She said ‘’Our parents told us we were Ethiopians from Gondar, nothing less, nothing more, and that was what we are stuck to till now. And our society back then demonstrated to us little Ethiopia in Gondar. That is what I take with me wherever I go. The politics based on ethnic divisions haven’t been able to take control over my broader mind because of that. I think the rest of Ethiopia has much to learn from Gondar. ’’
Definition of Ethiopianism
All four visitors from different corners of the country, Mr. Obang, Mr. Taye, Mr. Muktarovich, and Journalist Metasebia, coming from different parts of the country correlate Gondar’s perspective, almost in a similar way, with one thing: Ethiopianism or Ethiopiawinet. They mean that the people have a good understanding and awareness about it. The best minds from Gondar but now living abroad have witnessed it. What is Ethiopianism? I define it as the awareness of being Ethiopian with all of its colorful histories and unique identity. It is about togetherness and mutual respect, not self-obsessed, egoistic, and narrow. But accepting yourself and your neighbor as they are. It is also about liberty from any outside oppression, as well as respecting other countries. Whether you speak a polished and amusing accent or a gonderian Amharic accent, or different languages Oromo, Afar, Somalia, Tigrigna, Sidama, …, it does not matter. Of course, some even define Ethiopianism with skin color, as it is described in the holy book: “Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots?” From that angle, even a Sudanese or a Rwandan can say we are Ethiopians. Looking at the wider context, we remember the speech from the 2019 Nobel peace ceremony in Oslo Norway: “… Ethiopia is the cradle of humankind. The first Homo sapiens migrated from the territory of your country. In this sense, we are all Ethiopians.” This is said in relation to Lucy, one of the oldest humans known to exist on the earth. Since most human DNA is traced back to this same location.
We are not talking about that broader context here. But we are talking about nationhood and its existence. As Mr. Obang said, in Gondar, loving Ethiopia is more than a feeling or selling an ideology. The famous Tamagn Beyene confirmed its existence even after 30 years of ethnic-based madness that happened across the country. As an educator, I do know very well that such virtue does not SPRING just like that. There should be a deeper context to it. There was/is a well that the awareness/knowledge fountain comes from. The context is built on historical, cultural, religious, and social aspects of the people. If one digs deeper, one can get it. It takes huge effort and space to present it. That is how knowledge of something is affirmed too.
Ethiopianism is Inclusive
Journalist Metasebia said that I do not know where it comes from. However, as Tamagn mentioned it has to do with the forefathers. It is enough to mention that Emperor Fasiledes and the next 5 emperors after him, who built the Fasil Castle, the pride of Gondar. The castle lies at the center of the city, and it was founded as they resisted the influence of colonial power Portugal in the 17th century, four hundred years ago. Not only that, emperor Tewodros, the founder of modern Ethiopia, fought decentralized “Zemene Mesafint” in the country. This knowledge is embedded in the thought life of the people of Gondar. The people of Gondar do not only embrace the history of the people from that area. But if anyone does heroic things for the country, whether it is sport, athletics, music, science, or military, that too is embraced at an instant. They know that Ethiopianism is inclusive, not exclusive. As Tamagn said, the reason that he is proud when he says that he is from Gondar is, it is because the people have a clear understanding of what Ethiopia and Ethiopianism are.
Personally, I was born and raised in Gondar, from a different ethnicity, studied at Fasiledes high school, went to Bahir Dar University, and studied Mathematics, Physics, and Pedagogy. Further, I studied master’s in mathematics and Ph.D. in signal processing in Norway. Now I am working as an associate professor at one of the top universities in a western country, and I am engaged right now in education and research. Even if I lived two decades away from home, looking back, I have the same awareness as Dr. Hailu and Dr. Netsanet. I do understand and I do acknowledge that Gondar is a fountain place of Ethiopianism. We three are from different ethnic backgrounds but lived and studied at the same high school. Now we live in Norway: southern, middle, and northern Norway, respectively. We all hold that same perspective even today.
After Emperor Haile Selassie, at the beginning of the Derg regime, the youth movement in Gondar was strong. That is when many young people were killed by the oppression called “RED TERROR.” To tell the truth, many bright and sharp minds of the age were killed. And many floods out to the USA and other places in the world. In my view, that has created a gap in providing influential leaders in society and in the country at large. We do not see too many thinkers from the region at the country level now. Since families raised their kids without involvement in politics, in fear that their kids might be killed by the Derg regime.
Even in the past 30 years, the forces against the Ethiopian narrative were everywhere and they restricted such awareness to blossom. But Gondar has persevered through that tough time since the social capital within the society about Ethiopianism was strong enough. Standing with Oromo political prisoners like Bekele Gerba and others during the recent reform movement, as Mr. Taye Bogale indicated in his Facebook post, as well as their support to the current Prime Minister of the country, Nobel Laureate Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.), has to do with this Ethiopianism, also Ethiopiawinet or (Ethiopianism) according to what Mr. obang said above. But still it needs to be revitalized more again.
As the university lecturer and activist Muktarovich mentioned, the famous singer in the country, Teddy Afro has coined a phrase for the city “Gondar is one Ethiopia pillar and wall”! He and many of the people mentioned above have advised all to go and see by themselves. We three scholars were there, and the country mindset was built earlier in our life in Gondar. The most famous book ever written, the Bible, said “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” We did not depart from what we have learned as a child. The question is, what about the new generation? The generation from the past three decades was forced to think otherwise. Instead of holding to Ethiopianism, they are forced to develop a narrow ethnic awareness. We need to hold on to that value which was founded for us as a people to coexist in mutual respect: Ethiopiawinet. Anything lower than that does not fit Gondar, even other parts of the country too. Tamagn has also advised the people in Gondar to be steadfast and sustain that Ethiopian mindset, mutual respect, and love for each other. Yes, one has to build a virtue for human life, a family life, and a country, and less of a tribal mindset if peace has to reign in a country like Ethiopia. Peace be on Gondar! Peace Be on Ethiopia!