Wednesday, February 8, 2023
HomeOpinionPeople-to-People: An Epitome of the Blessing and Curse of Ethiopian Intellectualism

People-to-People: An Epitome of the Blessing and Curse of Ethiopian Intellectualism

Editor’s note : views expressed in the article represent the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of borkena.com

Yonas Birku (PhD)

Yonas Biru, PhD

We the people of Ethiopian intellectual class are a study in contradiction. Our sense of patriotism to our motherland is matched only by our betrayal of our people who count on us as opinion leaders and nation builders. Our success wherever we live as immigrants is a mirror opposite of our failure in matters related to Ethiopian political governance. Our goodwill to do good for our motherland is undermined by our holier than thou belief that has denied us the ability to accept intellectual discourse as a process to germinate consensus. Anyone domestic or foreign who has different opinion to our orthodoxy is treated as an enemy. The sum-total of who we are is emblemed in our intellectual culture that is mighty duplicitous, plenty screwed up and utterly self-destructive.

In the 21st century where the world is increasingly globalizing, Oromo, Amhara and Tigray intellectuals are preoccupied with village politics, like a 19th century peasant. They slam up against each other, producing scorching heat of pain with not even a flicker light of hope. Our past is the fascination of the world, but our present elicits their humanitarian aid policy and emotes their ecclesiastical sympathy (ለነፍሳቸው ሲሉ).

People-to-People (P2P) epitomizes our essence as failed intellectuals. P2P is a non-governmental, non-profit Ethiopian diaspora organization whose mission is to “improve health care and reduce the spread of diseases, particularly in Ethiopia and in diaspora communities.” As such, it aspires to “undertake meaningful development work in Ethiopia and help to address the many challenges faced by its resilient people.”

The founder and president of P2P notes that the organization’s social media platform has over 100,000 participants, representing professionals and experts in a plethora of fields, including physicians, economists, historians, lawyers, engineers, and all conceivable professions in between.  There are even political scientists, for whatever they are worth.

There is no Ethiopian diaspora institution that has contributed to Ethiopia’s health infrastructure more than P2P. No need to document all the positive impacts the organization has made in Ethiopia, particularly in health and education. Its phenomenal accomplishments are a google search away on the organization’s website.

To name just one example, the website notes, in 2005, there were only eight neurologists and two neurosurgeons serving 80 million people in Ethiopia. People to People sprang into action to develop a neurology training fellowship. In partnership with the Mayo Clinic and Addis Ababa University, the fellowship graduated its first cohort of fellows in 2008. Today, it provides opportunities to about a dozen medical students every year. The website also notes a critical support the organization provides to the nation’s educational systems in numerous universities in different tribal homelands.

The Political Seduction of a Noble Organization

In a sort of a subversive way, P2P vividly captures our high and low intellectual culture. The problem started when its management team decided to use the organization’s social media platform for political discussion. Soon enough, it was abducted by ultra Ethiopianist and Amhara tribalist forces. Though the two are different in approach and rhetoric, ultra-Ethiopianist forces see Amhara extremists as the backbone of Ethiopian unity. I have been a preferred piñata of both for daring to push back against their political and moral pathos.

Who are ultra Ethiopianists? These are people who have a certain view of Ethiopia and would accuse anyone who holds a differing view as an enemy of the nation. They leave no room for discussion or compromise. Amhara tribalist forces, on the other hand, represent narrow-minded intellectuals who see Ethiopia’s political destiny through Amhara tribal lenses. What differs them from Oromo and Tigray tribalists is their tendency to wrap themselves up with the Ethiopian flag. Both groups present an existential threat to Ethiopia because they serve as fodder and oxygen carrier to Oromo extremism and allow them to sprout everywhere like a wild mushroom.

This article is triggered by the vendetta and false accusation that I was subjected to after I published an article titled “The Accidental Rise and Foreseeable Fall of Abiy Ahmed in the Land of Two Shenes.” What irked my ultra-Ethiopianist and Amhara tribalist critics is my using the phrase “Shene-Amhara” to describe Amhara extremism.

In the article, I classified the Amhara political landscape into three different groups, including Shene-Amhara. I have used the phrase since February 2022 in at least four published articles. Nobody was offended. No one even noticed to complain much less to go berserk. 

The phrase became radioactive after the Prime Minister uttered it about a month or so ago. Though I was the one who coined the phrase long before the Prime Minister used it, I was accused of parroting the Prime MinisterTheir accusation continued to suggest that my use of the phrase “in the context of ethnicized political discourse in Ethiopia, the emphasis, [and] the accent, is on the entire Amhara ethnic group.” This, despite the fact that the article unambiguously classifies Amhara into three groups, two of them in a positive light.

One critic used false pretext and outright lies to accuse me of harboring “deep hatred towards the basic culture, tradition and soul of the Amhara people.” Sadly, People to People moderators refused to post my responses to these false accusations and character assassination.

All the comments on P2P were negative, and all were based on the phrase Shene-Amhara. What is telling of the P2P platform’s obsession with the ultra Ethiopianist and Amhara tribalist agenda is that my 16-page article covered a wide array of topics from economics to political governance, from the Ethiopian constitution to the geopolitical state of affairs, from Amhara tribalism to Oromo and Tigray tribalism, and from war-mongering to peace-making. But the only issue that dominated the P2P’s forum was the phrase Shene-Amhara.

Sahalu Tollosa’s Social Media Survey

A certain person by the name of Sahalu Tollosa posed on his Facebook that he had reservations about some of my article’s assumptions. But overall, he found it to be “the kind of article that should initiate rational intellectual discourse.” To find out how other readers perceived it, he did a survey of comments on Facebook, Twitter and Borkena media.

He found that comments on Twitter and Facebook were balanced. Some were unequivocally positive, and others were positive with circumscriptions. The rest were negative. Some did not like the tone and tenor of my criticism against the Prime Minister and others objected to my using of the term Shene-Amhara. Some liked the analysis but found it lacking in providing a way forward. Still others found the article lighthearted toward TPLF. Such varied reactions are expected in any healthy society that tolerates differences in political opinions. Here are some of the samples of comments that Sahelu gleaned from the internet and posted on his Facebook:

Zelalem_Meri @zelalem_meri

 “  አወቅሽ ሲሏት…How can we trust anyone who, at the outset, proposes for TPLF to only disarm its heavy armaments? Unless a person has a hidden agenda, that’s a ridiculous POV given the nature of TPLF. Yonas also claims that he was against ENDF entering Mekelle during the first round of fighting. That’s a flat out lie! I bet NO ONE, including Yonas, can show proof otherwise.”

Dr. Teshome Abebe (Professor of Economics) @TeshomeAbebe18

“A pen partly envenomed & partly palliative; partly false equivalency & partly inciting; partly critical & partly solicitous; partly sentimental, clever, confusing & partly plain, explicit, straightforward; but a must read for those interested in critical examination of what…”

Dr. Daniel Erku, PhD @ErkuDaniel

“A must-read piece. Prophetic. Reasoned.”

Mela Yared @MelaYared

“Hello @mosaleg, wondering if you have read Ato Yonas’ latest article. Would be great to invite him on your show & have a discussion about the article. I think he makes some very valid points. It is important that you have all kinds of guests – even ones that are very critical of Abey.”

Dr. Alemayehu Geda/ዓለማየሁ ገዳ  (Professor of Economics)

“This is one of the best political articles I read in recent years. Thanks Yonas for taking the time to write this badly needed piece. Hope authorities @PMEthiopia will read it & take it positively. I strongly recommend this article to everyone whether one agrees with Dr Yonas or not”

Dr. Adem Kassie Abebe (Legal Expert) @AdamAbebe

“Read this, very very slowly! [I] particularly find the three factions in Oromia (call them the 3 O’s, ala Abiy) and how intra-Oromo (and intra-Amhara) contestations will ultimately define Ethiopia’s future. Yonas, as masterful as ever, whether you agree with him or not!”

Swee’thing @mimishouye

“I stopped reading after the word Amhara-Shene… shame on you.”

The comments that Sahelu quoted from Facebook were similar, mostly positive with circumscription and some negative. The comments on the Borkena media page were more negative. Here they are, as documented on Sahlu’s Facebook.

Ittu Aba Farda

I got an impression that Obbo Dr. Yonas is overtaken by raw emotion this time around. It starts with the topic he chose for his article. That is very uncharacteristic of him. It is a well written article, thought provoking and a good set up for civil discussion. But it concludes leaving the cardinal question still wide open. I am from a school of thought that when a politician stays in a leadership role for an extended period, his animal instinct may or tend to take over.

Belay [No last name]

Baby Yonas is trying too hard to be an influencer, but it is falling on deaf ears. None of your terms and terminologies are worth the useless piece of paper it is written on. Your ethnic hatred for one of Ethiopias pillars: Amharas and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and it’s followers is pretty clear. You must be trained by Kissinger or Brezenski or Albright ..et al. The same goes for your farcical attempt at trying to divide Amharas … haven’t you heard of our beloved Professor Asrat… One Amhara for All Amhara we have never been regional… your western educated attempt to divide and rule will never work YOU TIKUR EUROPEAN. In the end just go away Dude.

Worqu Belayneh

[Yonas] hates Abiye to the core for reasons I do not know (but can speculate based on conversation with others who might), to the point of recommending TPLF and Amhara join forces join to oust him! Who in the right mind can proposes such a stupid and unless notion, particularly knowing what TPLF did to dismantle and destroy Ethiopia while in power for nearly thirty years and more recently over the past two years of rebellion against the Abiye government?

Rezen [No Last Name]

MAY GOD SAVE ETHIOPIA >having absolute NO HOPE from its own extraordinary intellectuals, with top most glaring degrees of testimony of their unparalleled shining wisdom on the UNIVERSE. Perhaps, the notorious military officer who ruled Ethiopia may be recalled to shape Ethiopia according to his wisdom. POOR ETHIOPIA, WITH VERY RICH HISTORY, IS THROWN INTO THE GUTTER of HISTORY. SAD! VERY SAD. What would the ghosts of Haile Sellassie, Menelik Tedros Yohannes etc [in alphabetical order] would …………….never mind

Yilma Adamu

Great overview on the challenges facing Ethiopia and what could possibly be done to resolve them. I know many have issues with the way Dr. Yonas comes across and with some of his assumptions. His arguments, however, are on point and something that PM Abiy Ahmed needs to heed in between his unbecoming of a PM project inauguration routines.

People-to-People’s Fault Line

The fact that all the comments on P2P were focused on one phrase and that I was denied opportunity to respond to false accusations after multiple tries reflects the political culture of P2P. From a political perspective, it is their prerogative to embrace any political position that tickles their fancy. But posting lies about someone and denying the person opportunity to respond reflects lack of moral consciousness and intellectual integrity. 

Many would have given up and moved on to other forums. I cannot do that as a matter of principle. In addition, my purpose is to document the source of the Ethiopian intellectual failure for a book. P2P is a gold mine that I will continue to extract stories from.

In Conclusion

Three decades ago, I wrote the following about Tigrayan intellectuals. 

Like a peasant from a distant century, modern-day Tigrayan intellectuals wear standardized jackets of thought, professing a fervor of blind faith. The irony of it all is that they are proud of themselves, for they believe their monolithic thinking and blind loyalty to their cause is an exemplary unity. In union and in perfect harmony they march to the drum beat of political conformity, charging forward like a mad bull. Only a cliff could bring them to a halt, and only in shattered pieces. 

Today, TPLF and its intellectual class exist in shattered pieces. The P2P intellectual clans who wear standardized jackets of thought and who talk in perfect harmony and march to the drum beat of Amhara extremism and ultra Ethiopianism will experience the same fate. 

KaTefahu Yiqrta

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Yonas look the fact that you draw false equivalency is somewhat at the heart of the matter. Unapologetically what we are telling you is the problem with Ethiopian politics is the Oromo and Tigrayan extremists. They created this ethnic apartheid system and until it is wholly dismantled we will not rest. All the rest is noise and a product of that hatred towards Amharas for the past 50 years old including Dergue.
    And with all due respect the fact that no one cared when you feebly tried to coin that phrase should tell you enough about your influence. Abiy’s influence has also plummeted.
    At the same time your use of words and phrases like Bible Belt in Gojam etc… is a clear indication that you are perhaps trying to appeal to westerners as an expert on Ethiopia. This is what was said by another commenter which I agree with.
    Again divide and rule tactics against Amharas. The situation you are now faced with is that Amharas have awoken and realized that folks like you are spewing በማር የተለወሰ መርዝ።
    Your Phd nor your previous positions qualify you more than my brethren farmers and Liqaunt and Megabis and Kesis’s who understood the inner nature of God and man and morals and psyche of people and building institutions and organizations for over 3000 years.

    We all could learn from them especially those of us who have been baptized through and through the western institutions.
    So Problem = Abiy and all the Oromo nationalists and extremists (includes OFECO, their type) + TPLF and their followers + so all other so called Abyists or Ethiopianists (G7 types the Neamin’s, Taye Bogales etc….) who don’t know wether to stick with their cult of personality or not (the camp I perhaps think you belong in)

    This was too long of a comment but it is what it is

    Thank you

  2. I forgot to add …. Go away dude or in our language እንደው ምን አይነት ጥበበኞች እንደነበሩ እኮ ከቋንቋ ይጀምራል፣ላቲን የለ ፕላቲን የለ ሌላ ፍለጋ የለ በቃ በጨዋ ደንብ፣

    መንገዱን ጨርቅ ያድርግልህ ጌታዬ።

  3. Greetings! Dr. Yonas Biru
    You include me in your list!!! Thank You, but I DO NOT deserve it. Believe me.
    I am just a simple human being who express his opinion the way they pope out of my mind.
    I am however deeply sad for our dear BATTERED Black Africa, by COLONIALISM.
    I have no glittering ‘paper’ to rely upon for my feeling.
    But frankly speaking, I don’t need the glittering papers.
    IN ANY CASE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH . BROTHER.

  4. Ato Yonas : I couldn’t agree more with the comments above .
    The TPLF had gone to war against the nation murdering innocent civilians and pillaging poor villages and farms In the process.. The Oromo extremists , protoges of
    the TPLF , have escalated the unimaginable violence systematically cleansing undesirables from what you call the Oromo tribal land. The professed ultimate aim of both groups is and has been the dismemberment of Ethiopia and create their utopian tribal nation In the ashes .
    What you call Amhara extremism is a response to the existential threat posed by the TPLF , OLF OLA and their ilk.. Where and when did the the so called Amhara extremist burn churches , rob banks , murder in cold blood ? Please be specific in your answer .
    Your analysis is the epitome of false equivalence . Its victims are people like Meskerem Aberra identified by you as an Amhara extremist.. She is now languishing in prison for merely expressing her opinion.

  5. Forget your Ph.D.; you should have mouthed responsibly for your age. But, wow, your hate for Amhara is blazing. I wonder whether it stems from an inferiority complex or ultra-leftism… Either way, as John Lennon said, “Don’t hate what you don’t understand.”

  6. The category of Shene-Amhara you created in your delusional mind (or rather immature mind), and which baby Abiy copied, remains a delusion. The OLF Shene is an armed militant group that has been aligned with TPLF and supported by segments of Oromia Branch of Prosperity Party. And it is a group that has been killing innocent non-Oromo civilians (not only Amhara) who have lived for generations inside Oromia Region. Is there any similar group in Amhara Region? That is, is there any group that operates in Amhara Region and that kills innocent non-Amhara civilians who live in Amhara Region, or civilians living anywhere else, for that matter (please do not give me as examples the fake reports of HRW and Amnesty International or do not cite the fabricated articles of WAPO and NYT)? You are not going to tell me Fano and OLF Shene are equivalent, are you? Your thought process is one of an imbecile. Please try to educate yourself (if you can still learn) or just retire into oblivion.

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