By: Haimanot Lakew
August 7, 2009
Reading political commentaries and articles is almost a compulsive habit; it can change one’s perspective for the day, urging one to laugh or to reflect inwards on a given agenda. Moreover, it forces one to rethink one’s previous assumptions and might even instigate change in one’s conventional wisdom. For someone like me, reading these kinds of pieces is almost like having my first coffee of the day. My favorite human being, from whom I get my weekly dosage of reflection is David Brooks of the New York Times. While I may not share his world outlook or his conservative political values, I am fascinated by his incredible writing skill and his educated polemical style so that Tuesday mornings have become the equivalent of an extra-strong Ethiopian coffee. By the same token, when it comes to the Ethiopian forum websites, I have tremendously enjoyed the articles and commentaries written by Mr. Zeru Hagos and by Mathza on the Aiga website. They are both always equally intriguing and knowledgeable. We all owe them a huge debt for contributing so many articles on so many issues; for anyone who has been following Mathza’s current series of articles dissecting the opposition’s propaganda lies, it is clear how challenging and arduous it is to consistently write such meticulously researched commentary. So once again, I really want to thank these two gentlemen for not only enlightening us but for directly encouraging us to have a tradition of reading through their writing.
I’m not sure if it’s because of our habit or our culture that we don’t appreciate these people until we see some reason to react against their words; in truth and unfortunately, I should have expressed my gratitude before and not waited for something to provoke me into response. I don’t know why we have this tradition of not recognizing or appreciating something good until something bad happens to that something good. Obviously, one doesn’t have to agree with each and every article that has been written; here and there, one sees the concerns and disagreements that have sprung up between the reader and the writer of a certain article, as a result of a judgment call. However, the article written by Mr. Zeru Hagos entitled Light at the end of a dark tunnel! Kinjit Swiss pal talk room and its admin! (7/28/09) went beyond this; it was not merely a matter of a judgment call, but instead it was an uncalled-for and a serious wrong political provocation. I waited almost two weeks before responding, in case the writer would in some way retract his statements or the Aiga website editors, even if they weren’t directly responsible for this article, would be prudent enough to correct such deeply divisive and unproductive assertions, given their larger audience of readers. Neither party came forward with such a response. I also waited out of concern that responding immediately would exacerbate the situation. I hope now that the Aiga website editors will accommodate me with the space and fairness to respond with my concerns over the issues that Mr. Zeru Hagos has raised in his article.
Let us review the facts that he has raised. First, he talked about the Swiss Kinjit pal talk room and its owner, who goes by the nickname of a great Ethiopian literary writer, Laureate Tsegaye. Zeru states: “The man is truly a man of his word and completely transparent about his stand on Ethiopian politics. He does not like EPRDF politics but he is not chefen kinjit degafi (blind supporter) either!” The second and one of the most contentious points made in this article comes with the declaration, “I could not hide my appreciation to the man when I heard Laureate Tsegaye say that. Especially since I know of another room that pretends to be a supporter of the Ethiopian government…” Thirdly, he offers a ridiculous assertion that has no factual foundation with: “…but was caught red handed purging Tigrean participants from her/his room so that Kinjit supporters would come to crowd the room!” Finally, in the most interesting and laughable part, Zeru concludes: “What it taught me is that imposters are the most dangerous, and my preference is to deal with people like Laureate Tsegaye who stands by his principle and bows for no one but has Ethiopia and its people at heart.”
When it comes to the first point about the Swiss Kinjit pal talk room, I don’t know how the room is run since I don’t participate in it at all, and so I refrain from making any comments. The only pal talk rooms that I have experienced since I began to participate are the Ethiopian Political Civility pal talk room and if time and energy permit, the Hedasse pal talk room. Thus, my pal talk room life begins Friday night and ends on Sunday night. The only incident that I recall concerning Laureate Tsegaye was when we had the privilege of having Ato Bereket Semon as a guest in our room and this gentleman raised a question. Based on that brief experience, he seemed like a person who was interested in raising the opposition diaspora’s concerns to the guest speaker. In all fairness, all I can say is that he was a person who wanted to engage in dialogue and for this, I too have a great appreciation for him. After all, politics is all about engagement.
When it comes to the second assertion of identifying the pretenders in other pal talk rooms who claim to support the Ethiopian government, Ato Zeru Hagos, without establishing the criteria or qualifications of being a true right-hand man supporter of the Ethiopian government, gives us the freedom of imagination to sorting out how not to be a pretender. Here, even given both of our Abyssinian traditions of “sem ina werk”, meaning stating things indirectly or in a subtle manner, implicitly, there is no question that he is referring to the Ethiopian Political Civility room. But the real and bottom line here is the question of deciding who has the right to separate the pretenders from the genuine supporters. Should we leave it only to you, Ato Zeru, to define who we are? Or do we have to take the same stance as you in order to be considered a true supporter of the Ethiopian government? Should we have to be the children of Hagos to pass this litmus test? In short, will I have to be called Haimanot Hagos to pass this judgment? This is where your lack of sensitivity for human equality and your lack of respect for human rationality emerge. My friend, if you have closely followed the Ethiopian Political Civility room with an honest conscience, you will find the children of Ismael, Abdissa, Kumelatchew, Adello, and of course (to your surprise apparently) the children of Hagos. As a matter of fact, the beauty and strength of our room is in the diversity of all these people creating an atmosphere of fair and tolerant treatment for everyone. One thing of which I can assure you is that neither the room’s owners or its administrators have the ultimate power to decide who we are; as such, we don’t have an Ayatollah as the recent Iran election indicates, nor do we need Ato Hagos to tell us who we are. It is only through the common dialogue among ourselves that we can come to an understanding of how we are to define ourselves.
On a serious note, your definition of pretenders or your notion of understanding who the pretenders are emanates from your blurred understanding of the difference between government and political order. To be frank with you, if you take me as an example in this discussion room, I’m more interested in the political order of our country than in its government, which might be a very shocking statement for you. In other words, I’m more interested in the institutional arrangement of our country, such as the Parliament, the judiciary branch, the executive branch, as well as the federal structures upon which the institutional arrangement of the federal and of the state (killil) rests. In short, it is the functioning of the supreme law of the land, meaning the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, which is paramount to me; everything else is secondary, including the EPRDF. The only reason that I am in support of the EPRDF is because it upholds, recognizes, and defends this political order. Its political programs and philosophies come second for me. As a result, the minimum consensus that we should create as a diaspora community abroad is the recognition of the Ethiopian government as a legal governing body. This is in addition to the Ethiopian constitution being the supreme law of the land. As such, your infatuation with the EPRDF’s political programs doesn’t take into account the difference between government and political order, and this is a serious conceptual flaw because theoretically speaking, one can be a staunch supporter of the political order of our nation without endorsing a specific government policy.
As for the idea that Ethiopians of Tigrean origin were kicked out of our room, this is the most offensive and infuriating allegation. In addition, you are deadly wrong on this subject. As a person who came to the room as a newcomer during the incident to which you are referring, unlike you I was not just a bystander but was also involved in trying to reconcile the differences that arose. Contrary to your false assumptions, the difference was not because of ethnic origins but because of differences over how to manage the room. There were those who questioned the private ownership of the room as well as the privately funded aspect of it while advocating that the room be run by committee, while using public funds. The second point of contention concerned how tolerant we could be in accommodating other opposition party supporters in the room. There were those who saw the room as an EPRDF support committee room and those who didn’t. These are well-respected political differences and both are fully valid, depending on one’s viewpoint. Simply speaking, a few Ethiopian Tigreans who happen to defer and leave the room is not tantamount to an expulsion of Ethiopian Tigreans as a room policy. Let facts be the truth of it; I challenge myself to submit to you the signatures of our Ethiopian Tigrean brothers and sisters who would agree with me on this assertion, so please stop with this (for lack of a better phrase) victim mentality.
Thirdly, to be fair to your criticism, you focused on the owners and managers of the room, but what you forget is that you cannot define a room like the Ethiopian Political Civility room, or for that matter any room or activity, by merely concentrating on the people who are in leadership positions. What you forgot to understand is the composition, the dynamic, and the input that each participant, especially the regular participants, bring to the room; by ignoring these facts, it seems that you have contempt for these others who play a vital role in our room without a title. As small and insignificant as this group may be to you, it is a key aspect of the room’s chemistry. Contributions come from, among many others, Anbese-3 with his day and night fight against Ginbot 7 supporters through texts in the room, Sweet-19 and Amen; they bring their senses of humor as a tool to reject and attack any diaspora hatred in our room. Young, new blood within our room include such great thinkers as Yifrue, Olympia, Tirgum, Kekadu, and so on (to name just a few). This is the new generation which is ready to take over the room and is its vibrant backbone. So my friend Zeru, whatever problem you may have with the owners or with the administrators, don’t use them to show your contempt to these others by generalizing about the room.
What are the solutions for these differences? Should we focus on forward thinking and find a solution for this or should we remain hung up on petty vendettas and old issues? I, for one, with forward thinking, will work to contribute a real solution.
Firstly, the 2010 election is looming ahead of us, being less than a year away. We have a major task and challenge lying ahead of us; as we know, just as in 2005, it’s very likely that hatred, demagoguery, rhetoric, unreasonable dialogue, and irrational politics might resurface as the pervading political culture in the diaspora political community. So, it’s incumbent upon those of us who stand for the rule of law and the continuity of a solid foundation for a political order in our country to close our ranks and work for this higher goal. Secondly, the Ethiopian government policies, especially the Program for Accelerated Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) are more or less on the second and third phases of being finalized. You know how poverty reduction development programs can be painful and inconvenient in the short-term. For example, there is an energy shortage right now, and even though in the long-term a lasting solution is in the works, in the meantime, you know already how the unreasonable demagogic campaign is being waged against the Ethiopian government in the pal talk rooms, as if it is taking us back to the Dark Ages. As a matter of fact, the greatest passion that I have towards this Ethiopian government is its PASDEP initiative. God willing, if this kind of commitment is sustained by this government for two more decades, there is no question that the Ethiopian political, economic, and social landscape will change forever. So shouldn’t we focus on the need for expansion of health, education, clean water access, infrastructure development, and other similar paramount issues? Shouldn’t we educate our diaspora community about where we are and where our bright future lies instead of engaging in these petty ego-driven battles?
Last but not least, let’s give space to each other and let everyone according to his/her ability and wishes contribute to our great nation in order to enhance the above higher agendas for the common good. I’ll be the first to tell you Brother Zeru to forge ahead in creating an environment conducive to dialogue in the Swiss Kinjit room; go for it and good luck! Let the Ethiopian religious community also have its own space to help our nation through prayer and good works. Let each individual organization made up of civic-minded people be encouraged to carry out their own individual projects and plans. So too in the Ethiopian pal talk rooms, let’s have accommodation and tolerance; please Zeru Hagos, let the Ethiopian Political Civility room be what it wants to be.
In conclusion, my friend, (if you permit me to call you “my friend”) with your marvelous writing abilities, write towards accommodation instead of division. Use your pen for tolerance and magnanimity instead of a narrow-minded and extreme point of view. I wish that our Prime Minister wasn’t so far away from us; he could have invited us to settle our differences as was the case with President Obama in the skirmish that occurred in my home state of Massachusetts between the Cambridge police and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Since this scenario isn’t feasible, I’ll be glad to invite you to have a nice cold beer to calm you down and to have a good summer!