Hunger for Compassion in the Ethiopian New Year
September 13, 2008
We in the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia want
to extend our warmest greetings to our fellow Ethiopians
for a Happy New Year.
Only one year ago we Ethiopians celebrated the New
Ethiopian Millennium with many hope-filled celebrations
that the “turn of the millennium” would
bring a “turn around” for Ethiopians. Unfortunately,
as most every Ethiopian knows, we have instead experienced
worsening conditions in Ethiopia in almost every arena,
with little promise that our situation will not continue
In light of this, do we have reason to expect that
the New Year will be different? Yes and no! Yes, if
we learn from our past mistakes and no, if do not! That
is, our hope for a better year is to a large extent,
conditional, that is, it is based on what we Ethiopians
do in the next months and throughout the year and our
compassion towards others in greater need than ourselves,
will make the key difference.
The emphasis must be on our own personal responsibility
and personal accountability responding with humanity
towards others, as this is where the change must start!
This is change that is driven by a change of thinking
that comes from leaving behind those attitudes, beliefs,
prejudices and ideas that have contributed to the virus
that dehumanizes our society that has infected Ethiopia—ethnic
hatred, tribal favoritism, selfish ambition, lack of
compassion, numbed consciences, the devaluation and
abuse of other human beings, violence, pride, deceit,
corruption, stirring up division, unhealthy competition,
apathy, the expectation of a “hand-out”
to take care of one’s own problem or the problems
of others rather than taking the initiative and the
worship of leaders and demonization of those with whom
We have developed a culture of victims and perpetrators
that continues to be recycled into new victims and perpetrators,
regardless of who is in power—on the small scale—in
our homes, communities, businesses and on the streets
of our cities, and also on the national scale between
those in power and those who suffer the consequences
from the actions of those in power.
If we stubbornly refuse to admit the truth and to make
the necessary changes, we will only add to our misery;
however, if we use our individual and collective failure(s)
to push us to become more compassionate and healthy
individuals and thereby, a more compassionate and healthy
society that can work together, we have much reason
to have hope for our future and for the future of our
children. The more of us that do this, the greater the
impact we will collectively have on our society.
This cannot happen unless Ethiopians work together
in solidarity based on shared principles of freedom,
justice, equality, human rights and civility as its
foundation and compassion as the thread that connects
all of these principles together within our society.
Before we talk about what we want for the next year,
let us openly address the serious problems that have
developed over the last year. We are reminding people
that this “better year” for which we are
hoping, will not be possible without our commitment
to making such changes. In fact, without such changes,
Ethiopia faces the possibility of implosion and disintegration.
We must face the fact that right now, Ethiopia is dying—literally,
as a people, and figuratively, as a nation. If we do
not face the desperate urgency of our crisis, we will
be so disconnected from reality that we will be unwilling
or unmotivated to take action to save the life of this
people and nation!
What is the evidence of our dying
Let us first look at our people. The conditions under
which the vast majority live are so difficult that many
Ethiopians must concentrate all their energy on merely
surviving. Pervasive hunger, malnutrition and death—of
not only children, but also adults in the rural areas
as well as the cities—from starvation is worsened
by rising prices, drought, floods and the overall mismanagement
by the government in genuinely dealing with this crisis.
Why should the cost of one chicken have doubled in the
last months to now cost 100 birr ($10)? Why should a
middle class working Ethiopian man be picked up on the
streets because he collapsed into unconsciousness because
he had not eaten for days due to giving all the food
to his children.
These are only two examples of a widespread problem
affecting countless millions some who say Ethiopians
are even too weak to get angry, to protest, to rally
or even to think. Without food, not only does the body
stop working, the brain will not function properly either.
As a result, there is no way of counting how many are
dying such silence.
Our hope in our TPLF government in taking remedial
action is less than ever. For instance, how can we hope
that Meles will take steps to resolve this food crisis
when he and his government deny the magnitude of the
problem or while they actively contribute to the problem
by displacing Ethiopians and destroying their homes,
livestock and crops in such places as the Ogaden?
How can we hope that Meles will help enhance the productivity
of farmers, while refusing to move from feudalistic
or socialistic models of government owned land where
the land cannot be used as capital, but can only be
leased by subsistence farmers? Reports indicate that
these small farmers are so hungry that they are eating
their seed and selling their farm tools just to survive.
Those Ethiopians who are being “given”
opportunities to manage more efficient and large-scale
farms are almost entirely those within the small group
of “favored” Woyane supporters whose food
may be destined for other countries like Saudi Arabia
rather than Ethiopia or who are using thousands of hectares
of land to raise flowers for export to Europe at this
time of crisis where there is not enough food to cover
the needs of Ethiopians. If the profits from the flowers
would not be destined for the pockets of only a few,
there might be some rationale in this economic endeavor.
The list of additional negative things that plague
our people and threaten their lives are countless; to
name a few—the lack of clean water, lack of education,
lack of employment for even the educated where they
are forced to beg in the streets, lack of health care
for pregnant mothers, children and those with HIV/AIDS.
What is the evidence of a “dying
Let us also look at the evidence that, without intervention,
Ethiopia is “dying” as a nation. The repression
of freedom has worsened in the last year. Political
parties within the country are so controlled that they
have little chance of representing the huge mass of
Ethiopians who are profoundly dissatisfied with the
During the local elections in April, the government
made it so difficult to run for office that they were
almost exclusively, the only ones to run throughout
the country, assuming different names of parties in
different places, but no one is fooled and everybody
knows it is the TPLF.
The repression of the media is almost complete. Our
people are blocked from knowing what is going on in
Ethiopia or in the outside world. On the other hand,
no information can easily get out of the country either.
As a result, Ethiopians are screaming in silence due
to fear of reprisals if they are audibly heard.
The territorial integrity of Ethiopia is being violated
as well. Meles is giving our land away to the Sudan
or to Djibouti without our permission. Our economy benefits
only the few “elite” in power and rumblings
among numerous armed groups threaten violence while
the Meles regime continues its divide and conquer ethnic
politics as if hoping that the country will break into
pieces so that the individual parts are “more
manageable!” Some outsiders seem to have their
own hidden agendas for a broken-up Ethiopia that would
also make Ethiopia less of a threat to their interests.
For most of us, the millennium year has been one of
the most difficult, despairing years we have faced,
even worse than the previous few years. After the joy
subsided from the Ethiopian Millennium celebrations
of a year ago, today, we have sunk into a greater pit
of despair, only made worse by the division of Kinijit
and of most of the other political parties. Today, the
future we were reaching for seems crushed. We are more
fragmented than ever before. This includes not only
the political parties, but also the armed groups like
the OLF, the faith organizations and civic organizations.
Right now, we have no one institution that is bringing
hope to us.
A society that loses its compassion
towards others loses its humanity.
Societies without compassion for others are societies
that will be unstable, conflict ridden and devoid of
the joy, peace and deeper happiness that bring meaning
to life and nation.
What makes people human is emotion. When you don’t
have emotion, you do not feel or respond to the pain
or suffering of others. A society that loses its compassion
towards others loses its humanity and everyone suffers
as a result. It becomes the survival of the fittest
where you trust no one and only care about those closest
to you. You will play favorites with these few while
at the same time, cover for them and not hold them accountable
because you cannot trust “outsiders.”
This is what is going on with the TPLF right now. This
is one important reason that we are not seeing most
of our Tigrayan brothers and sisters speaking up or
rallying with other Ethiopians right now despite the
fact that we know the majority of Tigrayans are not
really benefitting under the TPLF. It is also their
moral obligation to speak out like the rest of Ethiopians.We
also know that Woyane are not only Tigrayan, but there
are also Anuak Woyane, Amhara Woyane, Oromo Woyane,
Ogedeni Woyane, Woyane Christians and Woyane Muslims.
Without all of these Woyane from other ethnic groups
and religions, the TPLF would not survive.
It is a “dog-eat-dog” society and one where
the rule of law becomes the “law of the most powerful
dog!” In Ethiopia, Meles is “top dog”,
but there are countless layers of underlings who must
be catered to in such a system who become the “victims.”
Any of these victims are threats or “unimportant”
to their survival and are dehumanized so no one cares
about their suffering and the injustice perpetrated
against them. They become “forgotten and neglected
people.” In the eyes of too many, most of our
society comes under this category.
Human beings are “used” or “abused”
to advance one’s own interests instead of being
viewed as fellow human beings, created in the image
of God. This devaluation of others becomes especially
true if they are from a devalued or opposing ethnic
group, political group, religious group, from a different
region, gender, class or educational level or from a
category of people like “separatists,” “unemployed
youths,” street people (beggars, homeless or prostitutes)
Have you lost your sense of compassion towards other
Ethiopians who have been devalued and dehumanized in
this society? We lose touch with our own humanity as
we do this. The more this happens, the more it becomes
a societal problem that affects every Ethiopian because
if “I can devalue you, you can devalue me!”
It is a vicious cycle of dehumanization.
So, the question is, how can we expect to have a better
year ahead if we fail to treat each other with respect
and care? The future of Ethiopia depends on how we will
treat each other, especially the most weak and vulnerable
in our society. If you agree that this is a problem,
what can we do to change?
The strength of our Ethiopian backbone
is being tested.
“Having backbone” is an expression commonly
used to describe someone with strength of character,
someone who does the “right” thing even
when it is difficult or when it is at odds with others.
Right now, the strength of our “Ethiopian backbone”
is being tested. Are we willing to make the New Year
a better one for the Ethiopian people by stepping out
with moral courage and conviction in order to bring
compassion back into our society? We have been wounded
by fear and abuse and have substituted survival for
compassion. As more and more Ethiopians suffered, we
looked away, not wanting to feel, but to escape. What
small but practical steps can we now take to reverse
As each of you who were able, celebrated the New Year
at home, eating with your family or going out for supper
or as you bought gifts for someone special, remember
those who do not have anything in Ethiopia.
Remember the homeless, dirty child with no clothes,
walking barefoot and sleeping with no blanket in the
streets. Remember the young girls who are selling their
bodies in Addis Ababa and towns in our country in order
to buy food. Remember the other beggars on the streets,
all with their own stories and emotions. Each one of
them is precious in God’s sight. They are unemployed
youths, elderly widows, disabled veterans of the military,
disabled or sick with HIV or some other disease. Many
came from the rural areas, seeking employment or a better
life and found nothing.
Think of the victims of the flood in Gambella, some
who died and many others who are displaced and their
crops are ruined. Think of the Ethiopian women who are
daily being trafficked to the Middle East to be prostitutes
or forced servants. Remember those who died trying to
make it by boat across the Red Sea to Yemen, who could
have made it except their boat was stolen and they were
forced to swim at gunpoint.
Remember the mothers who just buried their children
in the last few months because they had no food. Remember
those parents who are inwardly suffering as their children
are too weakened by hunger to cry out any longer for
food. Remember the young child who is taking care of
his or her younger siblings because their mother and
father have died of HIV/AIDS.
Remember the victims of terror such as the young girl
or mother who has been raped in the Ogaden by the same
soldiers who are supposed to protect them. Remember
those whose fathers and brothers have been killed, beaten
or tortured as they were trying to protect their mothers
and sisters from such assaults. Think about the families
displaced from homes simply because they live near natural
resources that others want and those others are willing
to take their land by force.
Remember the mother, whose activist children were killed
during the protests after the 2005 election. Remember
the family members of those activists who are still
waiting for the release of their children so they might
come home. Remember these activists and the thousands
of freedom fighters like them who are still behind bars,
in the dark cells of prisons throughout Ethiopia the
country—including journalists, artists and musicians
like Teddy Afro who did nothing but speak out for what
Remember the children who are not getting the opportunity
to go to school because their father was killed. Remember
the homeless who were evicted from their homes—later
to be bulldozed down—because another Ethiopian
from the West, with money, went to Ethiopia and leased
their land from the government.
Remember the orphans who have such a fragile future.
Remember the disabled who cannot walk, see, hear or
is mentally disabled, but in this society, no one is
taking care of them. Remember the soldier who lost both
legs and cannot take care of himself.
This is not only limited to Ethiopians in the country.
Think of the refugees from Ethiopia in foreign countries,
in the Sudan, in Eritrea, in Kenya, in Egypt and even
those in the west who are having a difficult time surviving
away from family and home simply because they are trying
to seek safety or a better opportunity in a foreign
Please, as you celebrate with joy, put yourselves in
the shoes of those fellow Ethiopians who have nothing
in terms of worldly possessions—who have been
viewed as discardable people by their own government
and by many within our society. Refuse to promote the
devaluation of these human beings. These are our people.
May God restore our compassion and our humanity.
If we are to be a caring people and a healthy society,
we should see these Ethiopians as part of our family.
God wants us to see them as our people, but we are not
living up to what God expects of us. As we celebrate
this day, think of the Ethiopians in pain, in misery,
in sorrow, in loneliness and in hopelessness for “we
are our brother’s keeper.”
For those in America, Canada and Europe, when you return
to Ethiopia, do not treat the other Ethiopians—like
the homeless and the disabled—as if they were
not your own people. Do not consider yourself to be
a tourist for you are one of them. Eat with the maid
who is cooking the food. Be a Good Samaritan to those
who have nothing. We should feel their pain and attempt
to relieve their suffering, giving them the boost, wherever
and whenever possible, that might enable them to survive
or to become independent.
May the Next Year Be Known as the Year
Ethiopians Showed Such Great Compassion that they Changed
the Direction of Ethiopia!
If we are wishing for a better life and year, we have
to change. If we are to improve the future for Ethiopia,
we ought to do our part by caring for each other. Our
actions should not be only limited to those who are
privileged and educated, but it should be extended to
the people who have nothing at all—which is the
case for the majority of Ethiopians. This will require
those who have more, to share, especially those Ethiopians
who live in the western countries. They should share
not only with their families, but also with other Ethiopians
who are part of their greater family.
This New Year celebration should not be a year of wishing
for something better, but a year of action towards the
betterment of our people. Let this to be a year when
we put our humanity before our ethnicity, a year when
we can act on the belief that unless all Ethiopians
are free, none of us will be free. Until we all have
the basics to survive, we must share what we have.
Let this year be the year to forgive and heal the bitter
divisions between the people. Let this year be the year
when the divided political parties can see that there
is something bigger than their own political party and
that is God first, then our humanity and then our country.
Let this be the year when people will work together
for the common good despite our differences.
We hope that next year will become known as the pivotal
year when Ethiopians came together in solidarity of
purpose, becoming a society known for its compassion
towards others. We in the Solidarity Movement for a
New Ethiopia hope you will join us in preparing the
way for a better year and future.
We cannot avoid looking at the truth of what is at
the heart of our failure—we have lost our compassion
for others. A society that loses its compassion, loses
its humanity. A society that loses its humanity loses
its soul. A society that loses its soul, dies.
Listen and you will already hear the cries of a dying
Ethiopia. Let us urgently call on God to help revive
the soul of Ethiopia—that He might help us recover
our soul, our humanity and our compassion before it
is too late to save this nation and people!
For more information please
contact me by email at: Obang@anuakjustice.org
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