In Defense of Injera!

In Defense of Injera!

By: Melkam  05/18/13

I thought I had heard it all, until I read that, none other than our own illustrious Elias Kifle of the Ethiopian Review, the preeminent authority on all things Ethiopian has declared Injera a political hot potato to be avoided at all costs.  In a little piece he published on May 17, 2013, he shares an unconfirmed report that the “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized thousands of imported Injera at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on May 15.” He then adds that “the ruling junta in Ethiopia imports tens of thousands of Injera 3 times per week via Ethiopian Airlines without obtaining the necessary license from the FDA and other responsible authorities.”

Implicit in the above assertion is, of course, a thinly veiled contention that the Ethiopian Government is benefiting from such an import and is, therefore, a scandalous venture that should not be supported. If I dared to be cynical, I would ask Elias to substantiate that the Ethiopian Government is indeed engaging in the Injera business. And, if I wished to be outright mean-spirited, I would ask him to cite the source of his report that U.S. Customs has indeed “seized thousands of imported Injera at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.” But, that would constitute nit-picking on my part. If Elias’ regular cohorts are fine with not holding their guy to, at least, the bare minimum in journalistic ethics and standards, well…it’s no skin off my teeth!

If, however, for the sake of argument, one were to assume that all of the allegations Elias makes in this one-paragraph piece are true, one begins to see how the whole thing points to the larger context of what has in recent months passed for public discourse among the small cadre of excessively animated folks out here in the diaspora. It all fits neatly into a prevailing narrative that seeks to derail anything and everything even remotely perceived as having the Ethiopian Government behind it, no matter how beneficial, how sensible and productive it may be. “Don’t fly Ethiopian!” “Don’t buy Bonds!” And now….the kicker: “Don’t Eat Injera!” What’s next, you wonder! “Don’t breathe the air around the Ethiopian Embassy in DC”?

Even if the Ethiopian Government were exporting Injera, how would that not be a win-win for all involved? The more intricate issue of foreign currency aside, reasonable minds would agree that some benefit, at least, in the form of employment, would accrue to a multitude of Ethiopians along the supply chain—from the farmers who grow the Teff, to those who transport, warehouse, mill, bake, package, ship, distribute and retail it. And ultimately, we the end-users, so far removed from ager bet would get to enjoy a taste of the real thing, if we’re so lucky.

Elias, however, doesn’t see it that way. Unable to resist his natural proclivity for insults, he, instead, rakes us over the coals for consuming Injera imported from our good-old-motherland! Here is how he puts it: “Despite possible health concerns because of the unknown condition the Injera is baked in Addis Ababa, there are many idiots in the Washington DC area who consume it on a regular basis.” 

And so, dear fellow-Diasporites, you and I are “idiots” for craving a staple of our national cuisine and being so “reckless” as to consume it knowing that it was possibly produced under unhealthy conditions in Addis Ababa, according to Elias’ infinite wisdom. I don’t know about Elias, but I grew up on that same Injera he so callously denigrates. That non-FDA-inspected, pure, unadulterated, indigenous Ethiopian Teff; and Injera baked under whatever conditions the circumstances of the time allowed in Addis Ababa. So did everyone I know!  And, surprise-surprise…we are all alive and kicking!

Elias can call us “idiots” for buying the Injera that he claims the Ethiopian Government has a hand in importing into the U.S. on grounds that it might be hazardous to our health, even as we continue to stand in line to buy it! Similarly, he can demand that we Ethiopians in the diaspora refrain from using Ethiopian Airlines, even as we continue to fly our Flagship Airline which, as a result, is routinely overbooked. He can also be in denial all he likes about the Renaissance Dam being built, and engage in all sorts of underhanded shenanigans to stop the sale of bonds across Ethiopian communities in the diaspora by concocting all manner of conspiracy theories about why the entire project is a bogus scheme that will never happen, even as the construction of the dam is well underway and can be seen and touched!

Elias and the likes of him should know that they are doing a disservice to the very notion of opposition. A healthy, vibrant opposition is key a prerequisite for democracy to thrive, but being offensive, arbitrary, impractical and disingenuous in the name of opposition is not opposition. Knee-jerk dismissal of all things good happening on the Ethiopian scene is not opposition!

As a would-be activist, Elias would be well-advised to refrain from going out on a limb and making demands that border on the surreal and, therefore, have a prayer of gaining traction. Shouldn’t he know that the majority of us will go out of our way to get our hands on that pure-Teff-Injera regardless of his theatrical breast-beating? Shouldn’t he know that his transparent attempt at politicizing Injera, for God’s sake, is a little, just a little, over-the-top?

If the underlying motivation for his activism is to inspire a broad-based group of Ethiopians to act in a certain way, cranking out unreasonable diatribes ad infinitum is hardly the way to go. It is deplorable indeed that Elias and his friends have sunk to such new lows that they can’t see past their own talking points and, therefore, run the risk of being left on the ash-heap of history. The Renaissance Dam is being built and the great majority of Ethiopians in and out the motherland will be proud. The question is, when it’s all said and done, what happens to those folks who have all along insisted that the whole thing was a scam? I tell you, that’s no way to win over the majority of us here in the diaspora. When I am told that the Renaissance Dam is not real when, with my own eyes, I see the structure come up, I feel insulted and quickly lose respect for the naysayer. You can’t get my support, if all you have to offer is sensationalism, manufactured crisis, lies and a lame little claim that the Injera baked in Addis Ababa may kill me.

If Elias and others like him wish that a strong opposition sprout in the diaspora, their interest would be better served by being sensible, realistic and honest. If, on the other hand, they are content with the mindless group-think that lies at the very core of the back-and-forth between like-minded folks here in the diaspora that passes for opposition dialogue, they can go right ahead and maintain their corrosive status quo.

We are the silent majority! Silent, not because we are apathetic and passive, but because we don’t routinely resort to hyperbolic histrionics over every frivolous issue that comes up, as the small minority on the periphery of the Ethiopian mainstream in the diaspora is inclined to do.

Regretfully, folks like Elias may have a very low opinion of us, but we’re not as idiotic as Elias says we are. In fact, to the chagrin of Elias and company, we tend to think for ourselves! What is it that Elias and that handful of individuals who are on the same wavelength with him do not get about us? Granted, they are not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer, but to figure out the mindset of the majority of Ethiopians in the diaspora hardly requires a capacity for deep thought. There is little that is complex about us.

1. You cannot pull the wool over our heads! When Elias tries his hand at a little fear-mongering about the dubious nature of Injera imported from Ethiopia, we see right through his deceitful intent. 2. Our actions are not driven by sheer bitterness. We see fringe elements for what they are. They are adept at throwing out labels, but have neither the will nor the skill to tease out ideas and work out differences. 3. We are not lock stock and barrel in the government’s camp, to the extent that we turn a blind eye to misguided policies, inefficiencies and corruption in its ranks. 4. We recognize the achievement of the Ethiopian Government when we see it and give credit where it’s due… as the incontrovertible evidence of mushrooming primary schools, universities, health centers, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure works stares us dead in our faces.  

There is no doubt that Elias has his fans, to whom he regularly dishes out his brand messages of intoxicating half-truths, innuendos and tall orders topped with an unhealthy dose of antagonism. To his fans, I say, if that’s the kind of stuff that floats your boat, ah, well!

I sometimes worry, however, that our fellow Ethiopians back home may see us all in the same light and come to believe that Elias and the noisy crowd may be the standard-bearers of the Ethiopian Diaspora! They are not! It may seem that way at times, because of all the dust they kick up, but when the chips fall, they really have no relevance! There is a dyed-in-the-wool, ultraorthodox, radical group that lingers at the extreme fringes of the Ethiopian Diaspora. At best, the group may number in the hundreds in any given large city. And then, there are the hundreds of thousands of us…. discerning in our views, moderate in our positions, even-tempered and not given to denying the reality around us. And yes, if Elias and his friends renounce that all-Teff Injera from Addis, there will be more for us to buy.


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