An Open Letter to Getachew Mequanent



Dear Getachew

Thank you for your Spring Commentary 2009, which, unfortunately, I have found to be highly opinionated to state the least. Well, nothing wrong in that; where I differ are on the sweeping generalizations you had reached to convince readers that your line of thinking is not only the right one, but that it must be assumed to be gospel truth.

Take for instance your commentary on “Diaspora intellectuals:” the literacy level of the Ethiopian Abroad may be between grade 7 and grade 11. By the way, what you meant must surely be academic level and not literacy level, which is the ability to read and write. I don’t know what your definition of an intellectual is nor do I assume to be an intellectual. But I know for certain of the fact that because one is studded with university degrees doesn’t make him or her intellectual. Part of the problem that we, Ethiopians, face is the inability to differentiate between the learned and the intellectual.

I think your guesstimation had failed to err on the side of caution and may rightfully spur your critics to regard your way of thinking as an insult to the intelligence of Ethiopians abroad and an act of intellectual snobbery. And that, I feel, is an unfair comments on your good self.

The next point I would like to comment on is about your take on the various styles of writing on the web. Writing on Ethiopian web pages must not be regarded as a medium of educating the public per se. If that was the objective of the webmasters, then, they should have molded themselves like an e-learning center. These websites – as I understand them – offer marvelous and modern conduits through which a variety of ideas are communicated and debated upon. Those contributing articles are at liberty not only to write on a subject of their choice, but also to write it in a manner and style of their choice. I have never in the past come across website administrators complaining of writers’ use of good English; on the other-hand, many readers are seen eschewing articles that are couched in bad English. I don’t know about your domicile, Canada, but here in Great Britain, for instance, the newspaper with the highest circulation happens to be the slang-loving Sun which is avoided like a plague by academe and decision-makers who thrive on a daily diet of The Times and The Independent’s ‘classy’ and erudite style of writing. Let the reader himself or herself decide: who are you and I to decide for the readers?

I have also found your comments on Birtukan Medekssa to be at variance with the core belief of those – including your good self - who wish to build Ethiopian democracy on the firm foundations of values such as respect to the rule of law. Your proposal to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to “summon his legal experts to find a way of releasing Birtukan Medikssa from jail” is not only impractical but portrays an acute sense of ignorance on the state of affairs in Ethiopia.

Meles Zenawi is not Isaias Afewerki and as such should not be expected to rule in accordance with his whims nor take actions that are at loggerheads with principled stand just to pacify critics. Moreover the track record of Ethiopia must have made it clear to you that the EPDRF Government doesn’t get pneumonia when the Ethiopian Diaspora catches cold. The day Meles Zenawi attempts to do what you are advising him to do would, therefore, be the day Ethiopia would bid farewell to democracy. The case of Birtukan Medikssa is a legal matter and any attempt to politicize it will make a mockery of Ethiopian jurisprudence. And I don’t, for the life of me, understand how Birtukan’s case can be considered a “moral” issue even by brooding pessimists. Tell me, what answer do you have for me who lost a brother during the violent demonstration organized by Birtukan Medikssa, et al? One, of course, sympathizes with her little girl who will grow-up without the love and care of a mother; but this is an issue which Birtukan, herself, ought to have considered before rejecting the Government’s overture for her to disavow what she had said in public. No one’s sense of responsibility to a child can be deemed to be greater than that of the child’s mother. Mind you Birtukan is no ordinary individual when it comes to the need for the respect of the rule of law. As a circuit judge in Addis Ababa, she herself had passed numerous judgments on those accused of violating the rule of law. My friend, what is sauce to the goose, is sauce the gander!

However much I have grown to loathe the Derg, your analogy of Birtukan Medikssa with Hailu Shawel is not mistaken but wrong. If the hands of Hailu Shawel are stained like the hands of his former colleagues in the Derg regime, it follows, does it not, that he shouldn’t be up and running for high office. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia – much to the chagrin of many – has, nevertheless, allowed him to run for election. Those who wish to see the consolidation of democracy in Ethiopia – you and me included – should have the grace, therefore, to accept judgments and decisions that are not to our liking. That’s the ABC of democracy!

Finally, I hope my attempt to disagree with you by not being disagreeable; will not deter you from continuing to furnish us with your, otherwise, witty scripts.


With kind regards

Dilwenberu Nega  04/11/09