Letter to Ethiopians: Concerning the discouragement
that has taken such a huge toll on our movement for
freedom, justice and equality.
March 8, 2008.
Dear Fellow Ethiopian,
I am writing this letter to you to address the problem
of discouragement that has taken such a huge toll on
our movement for freedom, justice, equality and democracy.
What I am hearing in most every recent phone call, email
and communication is that many Ethiopians are just too
hurt, disappointed and discouraged over the failure
of all political organizations to unite and move forward
to bring freedom, justice, peace, stability and prosperity
to Ethiopia and because of that, no one should expect
them to do anything more at this time. Instead, they
are giving up and have decided instead to just carry
on with their own lives.
The main purpose of this letter is to remind Ethiopians
of the reality that we really cannot afford the luxury
of this discouragement! Do we really think it entitles
us to give up? Do we really think it is an adequate
excuse for turning our backs on our suffering Ethiopian
brothers and sisters back home? Ask the mothers whose
sons EPRDF or Woyane shot during the election. Ask the
Ethiopians who cannot afford to give food to their children.
Ask the Ogadenis who are being killed and living daily
in what is being called the worst humanitarian crisis
in the world. Ask the Oromo who have been locked up
in prison for years, hoping that the Diaspora will act
on their behalf for their release.
What will they say to us who live outside of Ethiopia
when we tell them we are quitting because we are too
emotionally upset with the Kinijit leaders to care about
their suffering anymore? Do they realize that we in
the Diaspora do not want to sacrifice any more of our
time, emotional energy or hard-earned money? Do they
understand that we believe that if someone has to sacrifice,
that some non-Ethiopians should do it?
As we turn our backs on the suffering Ethiopians in
the country, what do you think someone like Nelson Mandela
would say if after the first two-plus years of his 27-year
prison term, everyone had lost interest and quit? What
would the world be like if no one had persisted in the
battle against Hitler? Yet, we are hearing from many
saying, “I don’t want
anything to do with Ethiopian politics anymore because
of the leaders.”
However, I ask you, who said it was going to be easy?
Re-evaluate your views if you think it was going to
be done without continuing sacrifice! To further clarify
with you where we are at and what must be done, let
us review what has happened over the last few years
so that Ethiopians might reconsider their decision to
drop out of the struggle.
Before starting, it must be pointed out that this letter
is being addressed to all Ethiopians, meaning anyone
inside of the boundaries of the map of Ethiopia or anyone
in the Diaspora who originally has come from within
Ethiopia. Some will claim that because of what was done
to them in the past or what is happening to them now,
that they are not true or proud Ethiopians.
As a brother Ethiopian told me last year when I was
in Washington, “‘Obang, don’t preach
about Ethiopian-ness or making everyone Ethiopian.’”
However, this is not something subjective; but instead,
as long as the international community accepts the national
boundaries we now have, we are all still factually Ethiopian.
Also, I am writing this to individual, average Ethiopians.
I am not expecting everyone to agree with me. Some will
not agree with any of it and others may agree with parts
of it. Only a few may agree with most of it. The ideas
are mine, spoken as an individual. I know I am imperfect,
but if there is something here from which you can benefit,
take it, otherwise feel free to disregard some or all
of it. The reason I am convinced you are an Ethiopian
who cares about Ethiopia is because otherwise, you would
not be reading it.
As I have said it many times before, I do not belong
to any political party. If I have to belong to something,
I belong to all Ethiopian groups. I am not “pro”
any one group, but am “pro” all. What I
am saying is not limited to one, but I am hoping to
reach out to even the Woyane.
The main theme of this open letter is about the struggle
in Ethiopia for freedom, justice, equality and democracy.
As most people know, I became involved in the struggle
because of the injustice committed to my loved ones
and to my people, the Anuak. My passion was to speak
and advocate for them in order to help bring about peace,
security and justice, including holding those perpetrators
of these crimes accountable.
A year and a half after the massacre of the Anuak,
the killing in Addis Ababa occurred and I realized that
unless justice, freedom and equality came to the whole
country, it would not come to the Anuak. I realized
what was devastating and killing the Anuak, was the
same system that was devastating and killing the people
of Ethiopia all over the country.
This was one of the reasons that led me to speak up
in front of the Congress when I said, “I am not
here only for the Anuak, but I am here for the Tigrayan,
the Oromo, the Amhara and all other groups.” It
was the reason we in the AJC reached out to other Ethiopians,
realizing that we needed each other and that we had
more in common than what divided us. I saw that we were
one family and could greatly benefit from knowing each
other and working together. As a result, Ethiopians
from many places in North America and Europe invited
me to speak to them.
Now, I want to say I have discovered the beauty of
the Ethiopian people. They are very caring and loving,
something that I did not know before, especially as
I have come from a group of people who were marginalized
and therefore had little interaction with other groups
outside our region. After meeting so many wonderful
Ethiopian people from many different ethnic and religious
groups, I came to realize that what made us feel abandoned
were the leaders in charge, not the Ethiopian public—who
were more like us than not. I realized there was a small
elite group that benefited from keeping us separate,
bitter and hostile towards each other so that they could
maintain power, privilege and dominance in most every
area of Ethiopian society.
What I have discovered is that it was this average
Ethiopian who was ready to make a change in Ethiopia
when they were empowered by what they witnessed as two
million people flooded into the streets of Addis Ababa
in May of 2005. Some came because of their great emotional
response to the many young Ethiopians who were shot
dead in the streets only because they wanted such change.
Ethiopians came out because of the leaders who chose
to go to prison. In every city I went to—some
thirty or more cities—people showed up because
they also wanted something better for Ethiopia. To me,
it made me realize how much we shared this goal and
how much we had in common.
People mobilized in the country and all throughout the
Diaspora, coming out to protest or to hold candlelight
vigils in the cold or in the rain in North America,
Australia, Africa and in Europe. They wanted the opposition
leaders released and did not rest until the Kinijit
leaders were finally freed on July 20, 2007. With their
release, most people, even those outside of the Kinijit,
like myself, were hoping that the struggle would greatly
intensify under their leadership.
We felt the excitement ripple throughout the world
of Ethiopians on that day. I had gotten a phone call
at 2:00 AM from Addis from someone who told me that
the leaders were now free and that their mini-bus had
left the gates and was driving on the streets of the
city. There was lots of hope and anticipation, even
tears of joy, not pain, that the momentum would be so
overwhelming now that we would reach the mountaintops.
We thought the time had come when together, we could
conquer injustice and oppression so that genuine life
could return to Ethiopia. We believed we could fix this
broken country. Even the liberation Fronts felt this
despite not being part of the Kinijit. All of us could
not wait to see what could be done. However, almost
immediately, there were rumors regarding a division
within the leadership. Because of the declared commitment
to the principles of democracy and because of the suffering
they had endured together for 20 months, it was hard
to believe that they would not put aside their personal
differences for the sake of the movement and for the
sake of the young who had died defending it.
Because of this, thousands of Ethiopians packed International
Airports in Europe and Dallas International Airport
in the United States of America in a huge display of
support for these leaders who had gone to jail for them.
The leaders arrived, but the chairman did not come with
them until few days later. Cars packed the streets,
following the leader’s car. The Ethiopian flag
was waving. The greeting was like that of a rock star—no
western leaders would have even gotten this kind of
reception. Eventually the rumors of the division came
true, but at first we could not accept it as crowds
attended meetings throughout the Diaspora. Yet, it soon
became painfully obvious that there was a serious division
despite words to the contrary.
People became concerned. At the time, I reached out
to both sides and offered to mediate together with other
Ethiopian minorities as someone from the minority who
was not a member of the party, but there was no response.
I sent out an open letter to them and still no response.
After that, one accusation after another started and
people began to align with one side or the other. At
that time, if the leadership of the Kinijit had sat
down to try to resolve the problem and to find a consensus,
we might not be where we are today, but they did not
do that and we now know what has happened.
Today, Ethiopians all over the Diaspora and in Ethiopia
are expressing deep disappointment. Even you the reader
may be discouraged or you may know many who are. The
thousands, who were mobilized before, have now disappeared.
The movement looks as if it is dead.
Close your eyes and ask—what happened to the
two million Ethiopians who flooded the streets in May
of 2005? Where did they go? What happened to them? Has
the reason that they came out for been settled? Has
what they protested against been changed? Are things
better now than they were?
What happened to the 26 million people who voted? Did
they get the change they walked miles for and then stood
in line for hours for? Were their goals accomplished?
If someone asked the nearly 200 Ethiopians who were
shot and killed if the cause they died for was achieved,
what would they say?
These Ethiopians died like soldiers in a war, knowing
that their wives might be widowed and their children
orphaned, but they were willing to stand with courage
so that their wives, children and other Ethiopians would
be able to live without fear and be free. Did these
brave Ethiopians who died accomplish these purposes?
Did those youth who stood up and said they would not
allow the TPLF troops to take away their leaders and
would protect these leaders even with their own lives,
get anything in return?
There were many more Ethiopians who paid dearly. Consider
the more than 50,000 Ethiopians arrested and detained
in five concentration camps across the country. It was
done secretly, but was verified in September of 2007
at the time of the Ethiopian millennium when the Minister
of Foreign Affairs, Seyoum Mesfin, publicly announced
that they released 18,000 of these detainees. Of those
50,000 who were arrested, tortured and put in prison,
did they get what they were tortured for over these
From December 2003 until 2005, over fifteen hundred
Anuak were killed and until today, no one has been held
accountable in a court of real justice for these crimes.
In Awassa, over 200 were killed and no one has been
brought to justice. The same is true regarding the 200
who were killed after the election. We can go on and
No one has been brought to justice for the thousands
of Oromo who have been killed, tortured or still remain
in jail today just because they are Oromo. The same
thing can apply to the Afar people, to many in the Southern
Nations, the Amhara, the Tigrayan, the Benishangul,
Hariri and in the Ogaden where they are being killed
daily in a silent, continuing genocide.
To the reader who is really discouraged, you should
ask yourself if things are really better today than
they were at the last election or even a year ago? I
am sure you will agree that nothing has changed, but
instead, things have worsened—that is, if you
are not among the Woyane or those who are making deals
with the Woyane—all of whom are benefiting right
now from the suffering of others.
If we have to blame someone, who would that be? There
are many people we could blame in addition to Woyane,
and this would include some of the leaders of the Kinijit.
Why? Because people were more active when they were
in prison than they are now. After their release, some
of them—not all—contributed to killing the
movement. Much of the discouragement we have has come
from that, but our real problem is that a good part
of the reason for it is because we unrealistically worship
our leaders. This sets us up for disappointment, but
because of human failings, there will always reasons
for disappointment, even more so when there appears
to be some other unknown agendas involved. As a result,
we get crushed and give up.
Yet, the crisis in Ethiopia remains as nothing has
really changed. Instead, what has changed is we now
do not have leaders to oppose the tyrannical Ethiopian
regime led by Meles. To his glee, we have become like
the snake whose head has been chopped off. We have become
a large body that is immobile and silent. We can choose
to remain still, blaming others, complaining incessantly
and being discouraged or if each of us starts to only
wiggle here and there, we will start to feel our bodies
come to life again.
If we move in harmony, our impact can be massive, but
it will take that first motion to get the blood flowing
again. Anything less than rising up and unifying will
contribute to the destruction of all of us. We can sit
by and watch ourselves disintegrate through our lack
of action or through our lack of working together, something
that will only help EPRDF. On the other hand, I am convinced
that once we choose life and freedom, our disappointment
will fade as a bad dream is forgotten by morning.
We do not have time to waste. Most of the Ethiopian
people are living under worsening economic conditions
as inflation has reached 28 %. People are going hungry
from being unable to afford the cost of food that is
more expensive than ever. The unemployment rate is 70%
and people are calling for jobs. Again, the only group
to be benefiting is the TPLF.
However, the EPRDF are starting to reach out to the
public because they do not want to make the same mistake
they did before the last national election when the
Kinijit reached out to the disaffected public, worsening
their own hold on power. So now, they are bribing the
farmer and reaching out to the women and the youth.
They are preaching that if the opposition or Kinijit
cannot even agree, how can they think that they can
lead the country? The EPRDF are not doing these things
to really empower the people, but instead to prolong
their own power.
Tragically, the whole country has become a prison.
Most of the Ethiopian people do not know what is going
on inside or outside of the country because the government
has restricted their access to most information. Their
phones are tapped, the Internet is blocked and all of
the news—radio, television, newspaper and other
media—is government controlled.
For instance, during the recent crisis in Kenya, most
Ethiopians were unaware of what was happening as the
strength of the opposition party in resisting Kibaki’s
fraudulent claim to the presidency was threatening to
the Meles government. In fact, it was so threatened
by what was happening that Meles, himself, made a strong
statement in the press supporting Kibaki and saying
that the “Western policy towards Africa is ill-informed
and inconsistent” so they should stay out of the
African problem. It was obvious that there was fear
that if the Ethiopian public knew what was going on,
that they might be empowered enough to rise up after
seeing the example of the Kenyan opposition.
Even though the situation in Ethiopia looks so impossible
right now, the increasing restrictions and repression
is evidence that it is not. We can and must find a way
out and take up the struggle ourselves even though the
leaders have failed to do. People in the country are
dying and suffering each and every day and the government
does not care about them. This is wrong! We on the outside
have the power to change things if we really want to
and if we seek God’s help to do it. If we shift
the responsibility to someone else to do it, it will
not get done. No one cares as much as we Ethiopians
and therefore, we should be the ones to do it.
To succeed, we must change our thinking, expanding
our concern for others beyond just our relatives to
whom we send money by Western Union. Our relatives should
become every Ethiopian—all of those who are suffering.
We have to put ourselves in their shoes and have compassion
for the homeless, the beggar, the blind, the prostitute
and those who are dying daily—they are all our
Close your eyes and imagine those you have seen on
the streets of Addis and across the country. Imagine
yourself as those people because they could be you if
you had not gotten the opportunity to find a better
life abroad. Who is our family? If it includes these
others, we will find a solution!
Ethiopia is a country of misery, pain and sorrow—run
by immoral leaders who do not care about anyone else
except themselves and their families. If we want to
change Ethiopia, we cannot simply replace these leaders
with others who are like them—those who think
only of their own tribe and who refuse to work with
other people while preaching unity! We do not want feudalistic
thinking any more! We can reject these leaders who give
us this misery and look for those more willing to serve
the people rather than themselves.
Consider Mengistu—what did he offer to the Ethiopian
people? As a young boy, I can remember the suffering
of the Tigrayan people who were displaced and resettled
in Gambella. I remember their hardship and grief as
they buried their children, day after day, because of
malaria, water-borne diseases and because they were
so unfamiliar with how to survive in the difficult climate
of Gambella. Many Ethiopians recall during the great
famine of 1984, seeing the great numbers of skeleton
bodies of Ethiopians, whose corpses were lying on the
ground, covered with blankets by the thousands. Mengistu
could have prevented many of these from dying, but he
basically did not care.
When Meles came into power, he brought the same misery
to the people. Yet, we think our problem is only Meles
and that the solution is changing the government, but
if we think this way, we are certain to make the same
mistakes again. We must change our own thinking and
then change our system so that a strong system of government,
with checks and balances, led by people of integrity,
will help ensure a sustainable freedom. All of this
will cause us to think much more carefully about who
we want to lead us in the future and then to hold those
people more accountable once in leadership.
Right now, we have witnessed the division of the Kinijit
and many are blaming the Kinijit leaders for their own
inactions, but we Ethiopians seem to be restricted by
responding with an emotional matchbox-type reaction
that contributes to our destruction. We started a matchbox
on fire, but before it could even ignite anything, we
threw it down and the flame has died before even reaching
When most Ethiopians became active, it was right after
the May election killings because we could see the pictures.
Now, our commitment should have matured so that we do
not need those kinds of graphic and inflammatory pictures
of the killing of our Ethiopian youth to remain active.
Yes, our leaders failed us, unquestionably, but can
we not regroup and reorganize? When a problem in a family
occurs and it is not confronted right away, it usually
does not just disappear, but often gets worse. Instead,
if there is a problem in a family, it can be frequently
resolved if done quickly rather than ignoring it when
sometimes it can ferment into something worse.
A few years ago, I helped a friend whose girlfriend’s
father was a dairy farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada. My
friend was supposed to milk the cows for a few days
while the farmer was gone, putting the milk in a very
large cooled container. Early on, an electrical power
outage interrupted the cooling of the milk, but only
for a short time, so my friend did not want to go to
the work and waste of throwing away the small amount
of milk already collected there in the tank. Instead,
he continued adding more milk. When his girlfriend’s
father came back several days later, the tank was full,
but the small amount of milk that he could have dealt
with easily at the beginning, had now soured all 6000
liters in the tank.
As I said before, some Ethiopians tried to reach out
to help resolve the problem in the Kinijit leadership
early on, but there was little interest at that time
as no one thought it would reach to this point we are
at today. Yet, the reality is, we are at a desperate
point and it is not the time to turn our backs on our
people. We must mature as a movement and the signs of
that will be our perseverance despite the obstacles.
No group ever wins the struggle overnight. It takes
sacrifice. Freedom is not a handout and we should not
bank on outsiders investing more in it than do we.
The dairy farmer I mentioned, who lost 6000 liters
of milk, after trusting someone who mistakenly made
a wrong decision, did not respond to his loss and disappointment
by selling all his cows. Instead, he cleaned out the
tank and started over again. I am sure if my friend
took care of his cows another time, that he did not
make the same mistake again.
What can we learn from this? Because we made a costly
mistake, do we sell our cows and give up or can we accept
our error and learn from it? Are we quitters or marathon
Ethiopians take pride in all the world-class marathon
runners that have come from our country. We can think
of Haile Gebrselassie, Hailu Negussie, Belayneh Densame,
Mamo Wolde and too many others from the present and
the past to name! What made them win? They were able
to run long distances with determination, focus and
speed, despite the competition, the obstacles, the pain,
the disappointment and the great demands. Think of Abebe
Bikila, the son of a shepherd, who won a gold medal
and set a world record while running barefoot at the
1960 Olympic Games in Rome and then won again in 1964
in Tokyo with an even better time, only one month after
having an appendectomy.
Mr. Abebe Bikila will always be known as the first
Ethiopian who led the Ethiopian National Anthem at an
Olympic Stadium. Since that time and until today, Ethiopian
runners have been conquering their opponents at stadiums
throughout the world, year after year. Mr. Abebe started
it, but other Ethiopians have now followed his example.
He did it not only for himself, his family and his ethnic
group; he did it for the country. If we conquer the
obstacles in front of us like Abebe did, we may become
known for years as the people who brought true peace,
justice, harmony and democracy to Ethiopia.
The choices we make right now will determine whether
we Ethiopians are marathon runners or quitters. Think
about this is the context of the victory of the Battle
of Adwa as we celebrate its 112th anniversary this week.
Those Ethiopians who fought at Adwa did not fight for
themselves, but this multi-ethnic group of Ethiopians
really fought to liberate the country. It was a battle
for the future of Ethiopia.
Our fight today should be the battle for the future
in the same way. They struggled and many died so that
the flag of Ethiopia would continue waving for the whole
country. What we do today can keep the flag of Ethiopia
waving for the future or our inaction can make our country
break into pieces. What we do now, we will be doing
not only for ourselves, but for our future generations,
just like those brave Ethiopians who fought for us at
If we give up so easily in the midst of this discouragement,
we will never really know what we could have done to
change Ethiopia. We must regroup, reorganize and take
the initiative to get back into the struggle. These
deep valleys are part of our journey to the mountains.
Yes, we must wise up and reject those opportunistic
leaders who will bring a curse to us rather than a blessing.
Yes, we have fallen down along the way in our current
struggle, but we can learn from our mistakes. Yet, we
cannot learn from them if we give up and choose discouragement.
Do we want to die some day, looking back at this time
with blame towards others for our failure when it was
our own inaction that prevented us from freeing our
Even me, as a human being, I reach the point where
I want to quit, but knowing of the deaths of the Anuak
and the suffering, pain and death of the Ethiopian people,
the African and human kind in general, gives me the
determination to carry on despite the difficulty.
When I was young boy, I was struck by the suffering
of the Southern Sudanese as they came through our area
on their way to the refugee camps near Gambella, exhausted,
hungry and so weak that many died along the way. I remember
older people telling us kids to block our noses and
run by so we would not smell the rotting corpses on
the sides of the road between Gog and Abobo town. I
linked their suffering to someone else and held them
responsible, but I did not know whom. It really devastated
When the TPLF took over the country, driving their
tanks into the city of Addis Ababa on that evening in
May of 1991, I was there to witness it. Like other Ethiopians,
we did not know what the TPLF would bring, but we heard
that they were fighting for freedom so we all hoped
that our lives would improve.
The radio ordered people to stay off the streets which
quickly became totally deserted, like a ghost city.
As we looked out our windows with fear, we could see
TPLF soldiers with AK-47 guns driving tanks and walking
through the city. I was in the vicinity of Meskel Square
when I heard so many gunshots that it sounded like corn
popping around Menelik Palace.
On the third day, when the public was finally allowed
to go out to the streets, I joined them. I saw dead
people lying on the streets, especially near Mexico
Square, where I saw the corpses of at least five people.
I was like everyone else. We saw the bodies, but just
kept walking. Some of the dead looked like young civilians,
as they had no uniforms on. I started wondering about
these victims, thinking that they were each someone’s
son, brother or loved one, yet we were walking by without
stopping because of our own fear. I witnessed Derg troops
on the streets being arrested.
About a week later, I went to Gambella as I had found
a ride in the back of a large truck, along with about
fifteen other people. Between Matu and Gambella, near
the Bonga Refugee Camp, we came across the site of a
battle where there were many corpses laying on the ground.
The TPLF were targeting the SPLA, the Southern Peoples’
Liberation Army, like they were those in the Derg since
they believed they were supporting each other.
As we passed the site, we could see that one of the
men was still alive and had crawled with a broken leg
to the side of road. I still remember the zebra looking
fabric of the shirt he had on as he reached out with
his hands for our help as we approached. When the driver
slowed down, as if he might stop, I saw the man gesture
to his stomach and mouth, trying to communicate to us
that he needed food and water. We all saw him. But instead
of stopping, our driver sped up and drove around him.
I could not believe we had left a human being in that
shape and I asked the older man next to me what would
happen to the man. He told me with little emotion that
he would probably die by the next day when a hyena would
get him. I wondered what he thought about the driver
of the car and the rest of us in the truck who would
not stop to help him? There was room in the truck for
him and we could have easily saved his life, but our
driver made a different choice for us and for him.
One may wonder why I am telling you about these early
traumatic experiences, but it has a lot to do with why
I became involved first in development work and then
as a human rights activist. It has a lot to do with
why I remain in the struggle for justice despite the
costs to me personally.
It all began with me as I passed that first dead Sudanese
refugee as a boy. I witnessed thousands of Southern
Sudanese young children, most between eight and thirteen,
who came by the thousands, walking with no clothes on,
no blankets, barefoot with swollen feet from walking
hundreds of miles in the bush. Most of them were so
malnourished and weak that they could not even raise
their hands to brush away the flies hovering around
their eyes and faces. The blinking of their eyes and
the uplifting of their chests as they breathed were
the only indications that they were still alive.
The influx of children, coming day after day, settling
under Mango trees and in the empty fields in Pinyudo
is an image I will never forget. They slept on the hard
ground with the sky as their only blanket and roof.
Many never rose up again from where they slept. The
older and stronger ones among them tried to comfort
those still alive, acting as parents to those younger
and weaker. They are the children who now are known
as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”
This had a huge impact on me because the Anuak who
lived there had compassion for them; yet, they did not
have enough to give to them despite tying the best they
could. I did not know what tribes these children came
from, but I knew that each of these children had a name
and a mom and a dad who loved them. I knew they were
victims of evil people that led them to become the forgotten
children of the world. Later I learned that one of those
responsible for their deaths and suffering was Omar
al Bashir who killed two million southern Sudanese and
is still causing the ongoing genocide in Darfur.
Because I have seen all the desperate situations of
Ethiopians as a young person and again when I returned
there in 2001, 2002 and 2003, every day, I see a mirror
in my head with the images of a suffering Africa and
ask the questions of why do they have to suffer? I see
that I am unhappy with this life of mine because I am
never free of these images of the misery and now know
that in most of these cases, someone is responsible
for the bad things that happen while understanding that
others of us can be responsible for finding solutions.
I used to view a life as something that God takes away
when people die, but then I started seeing that often
it was people, guns, violence and indifference behind
their deaths and suffering that had caused it or perpetuated
it. It was not God doing it, but it was God who called
other human beings to stop treating each other in these
ways and to instead care about each other as He cared
Why is it that so often we humans fail to do take this
higher calling and instead speed right past the starving,
dying and wounded on the side of the road, like so many
of us are tempted to do right now in Ethiopia because
of the excuse of our discouragement? If we neglect to
do anything, will we ever be able to forget about these
lost opportunities or will they torment and convict
us for what we “might have done?”
If we do not rise up to fight against the causes of
this suffering, we will have to walk into the shadows
of our own humanity, giving up precious parts of it
as we deaden our emotions. This is what many, but not
all, Gambellans did at the time of the Anuak massacre.
This is what the privileged must do to take advantage
of the “financial opportunities.”
This is what various groups within Ethiopia are doing
to other groups as they ignore their oppression. This
is what we in the Diaspora are doing as we give up the
struggle—we are plugging our noses, turning our
heads, diverting our attention and giving up what makes
us most human and most alive—our compassion. If
we walk away from the pain of our brothers and sisters
in Ethiopia, there is a cost to our souls. Are we willing
to pay such a dear price?
I must confess that I am asking these questions of
you because it has also been a struggle for me. I have
felt the great tension between running away from the
problem myself and the images of suffering that continue
to call to me and to my conscience to not stop caring
about the plight of the people. I remind you, the people
I speak of includes all Ethiopians and Africans.
I am caught in the middle of these two competing voices.
Any normality in my own personal life is gone, leading
me to experience some of the deepest struggles in my
own life. I question why I should continue to persist
when so many others have gone on to pursue their personal
life goals. Sometimes, I confess, I have felt angry
because of lack of commitment and willing to reach out
and work with each other. I have told some of you about
I think of the story of Jonah in the Bible who becomes
exasperated and runs away from God’s call to minister
to the people of Ninevah, a people who were in great
distress because of the evil and violence they were
committing against each other, starting with the King.
Yet, God says to him, “Ninevah has more than
a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell
their right hand from their left, and many cattle as
well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
Think about the 80 million people of Ethiopia.
This is the basic answer to my dilemma of why should
I care—it is simply because God cares. Please
pray that God will draw us so close to Him that we will
feel ever so much more deeply, His compassion for the
hurting and wounded—even for those committing
the evil who could repent of their ways—so that
we will overcome the discouraging voices in our minds
that call us to give up and to not resist the evil around
I recently received an email from a non-Ethiopian woman
from Saskatoon, Canada who was in Ethiopia. She wrote
the following, “Obang, I'm in Ethiopia - the country
of authoritarianism, hunger and suppressed violence
amidst a people kind and still not ready to resist.”
What does this say about us? What will it take for us
to resist the wrongs being perpetrated against an entire
society of Ethiopians?
In Jonah’s case, it was after he was swallowed
by the whale when he finally called out to God.
“In my distress, I called to the LORD, and he
answered me.” (Jonah 2:2). God also caused
a tall vine to grow to shade Jonah, but then brought
a worm to destroy it the next day which caused Jonah
to be more angry about the vine than about the desperate
people of Ninevah.
Was the Kinijit our vine that God raised up and brought
down in order to teach us something of great value?
Were we trusting in the “vine of the Kinijit”
more than in God. Do we care more about being angry
at the Kinijit than caring about the dying and suffering
people of Ethiopia? If we do, keep in mind, God did
tell Jonah that he should care more about the people
than his own personal comfort and this lesson can apply
to us today as well, including to me.
With God’s help, obstacles can be overcome, but
perhaps the greatest obstacles are within ourselves.
If we are perfected from within, we will be more ready
to take the right steps and to be successful as we take
them. For instance, are we more ready to create the
kind of organization that will lead all Ethiopians into
a better future? If there is no organization, let us
create one—but one that is even stronger than
before because we are ready to be more inclusive and
If there are not leaders right now, let us create and
develop new leaders who are willing to leave behind
tribal agendas and personal ambitions. Let us revive
the movement where we left off—building on its
many successes and learning from its failures. EPRDF
will not change and give up what they have fought for
if we do not demand it with persistence and in unity!
With enough pressure from a united public, some EPRDF
may even regret their wrongdoing and change, but it
will not happen without such pressure! Look at Kenya!
What makes Kenya different from Ethiopia? It is the
fact that their opposition party is more united in their
mission and objectives and much less divided along tribal
lines. What we need to do is to have a national conference—with
political, civic, religious and other groups involved—in
order to discuss and develop a plan for the country’s
political future, one based on consensus.
This national conference would have two goals: (1)
to address the demand for political freedom; in other
words, what do we want for Ethiopia and how can we best
resolve our differences so we can work together to accomplish
it, and (2) what is a viable plan, with all its components
and steps, for bringing about the changes we want?
For instance, two priorities come immediately to mind.
Right now, the country is locked down with no communication.
For any new movement in the country, communication is
essential in order to mobilize the people. We could
help overcome this huge obstacle if many of the Ethiopians
abroad would consider contributing $20 a month—or
even less if many helped—altogether, it could
be enough to set up a Voices of
Ethiopia Satellite Radio Station to communicate
to the public in most languages. If the TPLF government
jammed the station, it could be changed to another right
away. We would need to organize a team of experts to
look into this more thoroughly.
A second priority would be the organization of a unified
team of spokespeople who could exert pressure representative
of a broad spectrum of Ethiopians on the western countries,
like the US and EU, so as to convince them that Ethiopians
deserve something better than this repressive regime
of Meles’. We also must be able to offer something
better to them than the Woyane.
Again, this means that it cannot be based on tribal
interests or on personal egos and agendas. This priority
could be accomplished; however, it is key that the motivation
of this group is not to run the country, but instead,
to free the country. Political agendas and platforms
can come later when the people decide for themselves
who best represents their interests.
If Ethiopia is to be freed, the solution is you—the
reader. The EPRDF will not hand it over easily. We will
have to fight for it. With God’s help, we can
make it possible, but it will demand much and it will
not be easy. We must remember there are people suffering
every day and that if we do not do anything, they will
continue to die. By taking action, you will save lives,
so do not be a bystander.
Let us rise up again and mobilize so that we are more
effective than we have ever been before. Let us not
fear change. Anyone who fears change will never get
anything better. We can find those leaders we are looking
for to carry on this movement. All we are asking for
is for you to declare yourself ready to commit to a
new movement for a new Ethiopia.
On November 17, 2007 the AJC sponsored an event where
Ethiopians from most every region in the country came
together in a memorable meeting. We formed new relationships,
finding we had much in common and many of the same goals
for our people and our country.
We were not members of one particular group, but represented
part of the beautiful garden of Ethiopians. Because
we were a mixture of groups who had never come together
before, some, like the EPRDF, found it threatening,
but this is exactly the type of societal mixing that
will strengthen and sharpen us, preparing fertile ground
for political groups and other leaders. We are willing
to join with any others who hold to these values.
If you agree with this idea, share it with your friends
and form a group, appoint a coordinator wherever you
are and contact us or others. What is unifying us is
that people are in the same position and are becoming
ready for something new and truly inclusive where only
one ethnic group is not leading it. Despite what seems
to be the case, there are still many people who are
active or who are willing to be active.
For instance, there is a new Solidarity Forum of Ethiopia
that is being started by Ethiopians. Kinijit, as well,
still has many active and committed members who are
doing all they can to keep up the work despite limited
support. The same thing is going on in Hebret, in the
Liberation Fronts and in other political, civic, ethnic
and religious groups. Eventually, all of these groups
could be connected into one large movement. It could
be very powerful!
It is only by being organized into a larger movement
that we will be able to exert effective pressure on
EPRDF, like what was done with the Kenyan opposition—the
Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). If we are united,
EPRDF will not be able to resist 80 million Ethiopians
who stand up together against EPRDF oppression and tyrannical
Like my good friend Mr. Raila Odinga from the ODM said,
and I paraphrase, “President Kibaki has 200,000
gun-carrying men, but there are 30 million Kenyans.”
Kibaki would never have agreed to share power willingly,
but he is totally over-powered by the people of Kenya
and after resisting as best as he could, he now has
We have similar assets in the Ethiopian people that
we could use to give Meles no choice but to succumb
to the power of millions of united Ethiopians. Will
you be one of them? Are you willing to put aside your
discouragement and take up the fight again? We can do
it and you are part of what will make us succeed!
Please feel free to email your thoughts on this to
me, whether you agree or disagree. May God help us to
be people of virtue, integrity, compassion and justice!
Director of International Advocacy for the Anuak Justice
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