on Solidarity Movement Meeting in Minnesota:
Building Bridges of Solidarity to a New Ethiopia
November 18, 2008
Can Ethiopians come together in solidarity to build
a bridge to a new Ethiopia or are we doomed to suffering,
division and eternal failure? It all depends on how
we build it was the consensus of the meeting held on
November 16, 2008 at the University of Minnesota called
by the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia and sponsored
by some local Ethiopian organizations.
To get to the meeting, many had to drive across the
newly constructed I-35 Bridge linking St. Paul with
Minneapolis. This is the same bridge that collapsed
in August of 2007, killing and injuring many Minnesotans
traveling across the main bridge connecting the Twin
Cities. The reports explaining the reasons for the collapse
were just released this past week citing fundamental
design problems in the structure that doomed it to failure
from the beginning.
Now the new bridge is up, sooner than anyone expected,
and engineers designing the new bridge made sure that
those same flaws were not repeated. This seems like
an obvious assumption, but if you apply the same thinking
to the legacy of repressive governments in Ethiopia
and Africa, one might come to the conclusion that we
need new engineers.
Those engineers of a
“new Ethiopia” came together for an “Ethiopian
Those engineers of a “new Ethiopia” came
together for an “Ethiopian Dialogue” between
diverse Ethiopians in Minnesota, with the purpose of
helping to design a new model for Ethiopia that would
be based on the principles of “humanity before
ethnicity” and that “no one will be free
until we all are free.” These are the principles
espoused by the Solidarity Movement that we believe
are foundational to building the kind of bridge that
can hold up all of the diverse people of Ethiopia as
they cross to a new Ethiopia.
There at the meeting, I could see the beginnings of
that beautiful “garden of Ethiopia” of which
I dream as Ethiopians from many various ethnic groups,
regions, religions, political groups and of varied thinking—like
separatists and unionists-- came together as individuals
to see if they could form a shared vision for a better
future. At first, people were guarded and suspicious
of each other, but by the end of the meeting, people
were shaking hands, introducing themselves, hugging
each other and sharing ideas.
Controversial topics were not avoided and disagreements
were straightforwardly discussed; yet, the respect and
civility of those present towards each other’s
views was the greatest success of the meeting! In fact,
we discovered much in common. It was a great indication
that Ethiopians can successfully come together to genuinely
address the very real problems of Ethiopia. We will
never build a better bridge unless we understand what
went wrong and how to fix it.
Some of those attending volunteered to form a working
team to continue building solidarity in Minnesota. It
was emphasized that the Solidarity Movement for a New
Ethiopia was not a political group intending to run
for political office, but a grassroots movement of the
Ethiopian people to promote human rights, justice, freedom
and good government for all people.
As one representative from the Ogaden stated, “Free-minded
people must come together to create a free Ethiopia.”
What this means in concrete terms is that to join the
Solidarity Movement does not mean you must leave your
differences or political views behind. For example,
Ethiopians can remain supporters of Andinet, Ginbot7,
OLF, SLF, ONLF, EPRP, Kinijit, ENUF, UEDF or none of
the above because our goal is to create an atmosphere
conducive to political organizations to run for office,
God-willing, by the next election.
The meeting was opened up by Mr. Robsan Itana, the
head of the Oromo American Citizen Council, who endorsed
the concept of the Solidarity Movement as a means to
join together over common issues and went on to name
examples of the oppression directed against various
groups of Ethiopians that could all be addressed more
powerfully by one organization that could advocate on
behalf of all.
The Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) is
a newly formed grassroots movement whose mission is
to mobilize Ethiopians in the Diaspora and within Ethiopia
to unite in a coalition across ethnic, regional, political,
cultural, and religious lines around principles of truth,
justice, freedom, the protection of human rights, equality
and civility in order to bring about a more open, free
and reconciled society in Ethiopia where humanity comes
before ethnicity and where the same rights, opportunities
and privileges are available to all because no one will
be free until all are free.
The second speaker, Miss Hodan, was from the Ogadeni
community and spoke of her support for a grassroots
movement for human rights and democracy which she described
as flourishing when citizens are involved, where there
is tolerance towards others and where there everyone
is held accountable. She explained how Ogadenis had
been free until colonial powers equipped Abyssinia who
then committed crimes against the people of the Ogaden
while the international community failed to take note.
The third speaker, Mr. Berhane Worku, explained that
he was speaking as an individual and went on to tell
his own personal story. He began by saying that Ethiopia’s
problems could not be solved by any one group and told
about his own ethnic background as being an example
of the mixed backgrounds of many Ethiopians that blurs
distinctions and confuses identity.
He said he was 3/8th’s Gurage, 2/8th’s
Sidamo, 2/8th’s Oromo and 1/8th Amhara. He said
that Ethiopians must fight together for a democratic
culture rather than one based on blood and gore. While
admitting he did not know the solutions, he affirmed
the need to start with a dialogue and to join together
across ethnic, political and religious lines in condemning
the gross human rights crimes going on in the Ogaden
What broke the bridge
between Ethiopians in the first place and what we can
do to bring about the “New Ethiopia”
I will also summarize my own comments that were focused
on what broke the bridge between Ethiopians in the first
place and what we can do to bring about the “New
Ethiopia” that would include all Ethiopians.
First of all, I am not proposing a “united”
Ethiopia for the mere purpose of uniting Ethiopians
because that could mean uniting around Mengistu, uniting
around Meles or uniting around some other yet to be
named oppressive dictator. The kind of unity that calls
one group “more Ethiopian” than another
group is not the kind of unity that I would want. I
would actively oppose it because it is based on principles
that have kept Ethiopians oppressed, divided and dehumanized.
A united Ethiopia that calls people who look like me
a “Baria” is not the kind of Ethiopia I
want. An Ethiopia that marginalizes or oppresses you
simply because you are considered 99.9% Ethiopian is
not the kind of Ethiopia I want. I want to unite to
create an Ethiopian where each of us is 100% Ethiopian!
To do so, we must discard the flawed systems of the
present and past.
A bridge to a new Ethiopia will not be built in the
same way anymore than the I-35 bridge will be reconstructed
with the same mistakes and flaws or we would simply
be re-creating a system that is doomed from the start.
None of the leaders of the past put “humanity
before ethnicity,” even though they each promised
a new “society,” for one simple reason—when
you keep using the same old toxic chemicals, no wonder
they produce the same toxic society that is poisoning
A true leader never puts ethnicity first, but always
puts humanity first. Jesus never put his ethnicity first.
He died for all humanity. Mohammed did not put ethnicity
first and is the reason there are Muslims from many
Right now, there are reasons why some run away from
the “old” Ethiopia for it has been an Ethiopia
that has had no room for them. The “New Ethiopia”
will only be accomplished if both separatists, unionists,
and everyone else—including Tigrayans—are
all involved at the grassroots in creating a nation
where the people have a choice, where members respect
and value each other regardless of skin color, education,
culture, religion, political view or gender and where
there is room at the table of Ethiopia for all Ethiopians.
As Hodan said, we must also look to our neighbors surrounding
Ethiopia because all of us in the Horn of Africa need
each other. In America, people worked to make it a place
where differences were accepted, but also blended together
to create something much stronger. It is a place now
where people from all over the world run to—not
away! As Berhane said, what we need are leaders who
are humble and willing to work across ethnic, political
and religious divides, not seeking to dominate like
different groups have done in the past—something
that even creates painful internal pressure on individual
families, like his own, due to the diversity within
one’s own heritage.
The mixed blood of Ethiopians
is all one blood—the blood of humankind
Yet, the mixed blood of Ethiopians is all one blood—the
blood of humankind. This is what went wrong with the
old bridge—we could not see that the mixed up
blood of Ethiopians was really all one blood—the
blood of humankind. This is what will build the structural
strength of a new bridge to a “New Ethiopia.”
Our hut is burning and we are all in it and in jeopardy
of dying. We must join together in not just saving our
hut, but in breaking down the invisible fences that
When I ended the talk, I was impressed with the questions
and discussion that followed. One of the first questions
was how to accomplish the task, particularly now that
a new administration will be coming into office. There
was agreement that it must start by identifying a team
that would go to Obama that would represent all of the
varied cases and proposing a better alternative to what
we now have that includes all Ethiopians.
In the past, one government official told me that five
different Ethiopian groups had sought a meeting within
the same week. This merely overwhelms such officials
who are confused by what sometimes are contradictory
and factional requests. Such a team was identified at
the meeting as a high priority of the Solidarity Movement
because if Ethiopians could come together with one common
goal and voice, it will be something much easier for
President-elect Obama to support and thereby, for Ethiopians
to define their own destiny.
Others brought up the need for reconciliation in order
to “break down the suspicion and animosity between
us.” One man from a Tigrayan background decried
the alienation between Tigray and other Ethiopians even
though the same government was killing and detaining
his brothers back in Ethiopia.
I personally was very glad that this question was presented
and proud that this man had the courage of saying, “I
am a Tigrayan and not part of this government,”
because Tigrayans such as this are screaming in silence
with no support, or worse, feeling animosity from their
We must join together to support a different kind of
society. This is the beginning of reconciliation, one
of the key components of this Solidarity Movement. It
can start at the grassroots level at meetings such as
this so that we can gain understanding and build relationships
with real people with real stories.
As Ethiopians, we have a huge wound that needs healing
where pain can and has been inflicted against each other.
All Tigrayans cannot be put into one box and identified
as Woyanne. In fact, “Woyanne-ism” can be
attached to some people from every region and group
We have Woyane Anuak, Woyane Oromo, Woyane Ogadeni
and you name it. In fact, as Berhane said, we must stand
up and condemn the gross human rights crimes in the
Ogaden, but it is a Woyane Ogadeni who is governor of
the region. This is not about ethnicity, it is a struggle
between those who choose to commit evi—who should
be held accountable-- and those who stand up against
On December 13, 2003, when the Anuak were being massacred,
there were Tigrayan heroes and heroines of righteousness
that protected the Anuak. These were the true brothers
and sisters of the Anuak who were more protective of
them than were Woyane Anuak.
“Our bridge to
a “New Ethiopia”
In a “New Ethiopia,” there must be a separation
of those who commit crimes from those who do not. It
must be a system based on authentic justice against
perpetrators, not against ethnicity or we will be the
new “genocidalists” and the next “oppressors.”
Our bridge will not lead to freedom but instead be a
trap set to kill and capture new victims. I will never
be part of such an Ethiopia. Any who choose this path
will soon discover that those who perpetrate against
the innocent will never be free, just like Meles is
the most unfree of all people.
In the same light, an Anuak man expressed his concern
regarding coming together if it simply meant another
“experiment” that would result in the same
kind of failure as in the last regimes.
These are real concerns that must be fully examined
because groups like the Anuak and the Oromo initially
supported the changes promised by the Meles regime,
only to later be betrayed, repressed and targeted by
them. Questions such as these create heightened responsibility
and accountability of all involved to plan safeguards
within the Solidarity Movement to better guarantee a
check and balance system, especially for minority groups
who most often have little voice.
At first, some people did not want the name of Ethiopia
linked to this movement, but later understood that we
cannot blame the name of Ethiopia nor the flag as they
never killed or oppressed any people—it was the
leaders who did so.
The issue that was most important was that people who
lived within the geographical map of Ethiopia were suffering,
had been killed, denied a voice, oppressed and were
“unfree.” It was agreed that the goal of
the movement was to bring justice, opportunity, and
freedom for all so that the people could live together
in harmony and that the name Ethiopia was secondary.
Our moral attitudes and
actions must overflow to our neighbors as well in order
to bring greater peace to the Horn.
Some from separatist groups endorsed the idea of coming
together around the protection of human rights, but
were not sure they would want to be part of an Ethiopia
where they had never had any choice, dating back to
when colonialists decided for them to include them as
part of Ethiopia.
As we know, this is a government that has viewed its
people as enemies. For example, Oromo can be targeted
for only being Oromo as the government operates on the
belief that if you scratch the skin of any Oromo man,
you will see OLF.
One Ogadeni woman emotionally testified to the horrible
atrocities going on in the Ogaden, citing examples of
80 and 90 year old women being raped by troops, of the
burning down of crops and poisoning of water wells while
the world watches. This is the same battalion that committed
such crimes in Gambella and elsewhere in the country.
Another Ogadeni woman responded by saying that we need
to come together around human rights, even if we eventually
separate because we will be neighbors for freedom means
not being afraid of others, particularly of those close
An Anuak man concluded by saying that he was Ethiopian
geographically and that his people were oppressed. Because
of this, he said just using the name of Ethiopia was
not an important issue to him. He said that he is going
to be part of uniting with other Ethiopians to solve
this problem and then later on, when the fight for freedom
is accomplished, people can decide on whether or not
they still want independence from Ethiopia.
A number of others agreed with him that until the society
was freed, they should work together to create a society
where there would be self-determination. In such a society,
they could actually then choose for themselves, even
if it meant separating later or adopting a model like
Canada has with Quebec.
Most everyone seemed to agree that freedom would never
come to Ethiopia unless we all joined together in this
struggle. Success will be measured by whether Ethiopians
and Ethiopian leaders can put humanity before ethnicity
and uphold the freedom of all people.
These attitudes and actions must overflow to our neighbors
as well in order to bring greater peace to the Horn,
but it all starts by uniting around these principles.
Our bridge to a “New Ethiopia” will not
be possible if we do not revamp the design from the
flawed and doomed models of the past; otherwise, we
will repeat our mistakes and the people will suffer.
What took place in this
room was proof that it can also be done in Ethiopia.
After the meeting, some told me that they or others
had been worried about mixing people with different
viewpoints and with a history of alienation towards
each other, especially if the discussion became very
heated and people started walking out—like mixing
oil and water together—but that did not happen.
People were able to talk civilly about subjects that
had been taboo before and arrive at some consensus.
One Tigrayan man referred to a leader from the Oromo
community saying that had they met in public, he would
not have greeted him, but now they will be working together.
What took place in this room was proof that it can
also be done in Ethiopia. The healing process was started.
The man who spoke of his multi-ethnic heritage called
for a team to carry on the work to make sure that it
did not stop after the meeting ended. People committed
themselves and as it turned out, they represented diverse
The feedback I am receiving is that what was feared,
turned out to be a beautiful thing, but now, the concepts
must be repeated so that other Ethiopians in other cities
can witness for themselves how Ethiopians can come together.
The volunteer committee is now planning to reach out
in their respective communities so as to build on what
In closing, I shared some personal experiences and
convictions. The one I will end with here is the confidence
I have that despite the enormous challenges that lie
ahead, I am convinced that nothing is impossible if
we fear God, if we show love and respect to each other
and if we work together in solidarity for a new and
more humane Ethiopia. Please pass this on and challenge
others to join in this movement to free and transform
May God guide, enable and empower us, giving us soft
hearts towards each other and strong hearts for truth
and justice as we carry out this task that is beyond
our ability and resources to accomplish without God’s
For more information please contact
me, Obang Metho,
Executive Member of the Solidarity Movement for a New
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