We are a nation that has suffered tremendous pains for more than forty-four years. When Haile Selassie was deposed on September 12th, 1974—a month and a half before I was born—and led away with a Volkswagen Buggy, it set into motion a series of events that deeply wounded the hearts and spirits of almost every Ethiopian. Millions were forced into a life of sidet (exile) and the rest that remained became prisoners in their own country; a White Terror that was paid back in kind with a Red Terror turned us into a people without a home.
On this day of Fasika, I am reminded of the admonitions found in the bible that beseeches us to leave judgment to Egziabher (God) and for us to forgive our trespassers. There is a reason for this sage advice: vengeance is a horrible sin; the minute we let our hearts become clouded with anger and seek payback instead of forbearance, what we unleash is terror. The same way the Derg loosened dread throughout Ethiopia only for his victims to commit further injustices in the name of vindictiveness, fighting evil with animus only furthers enmity.
More than 500,000 Ethiopians died when the virus of revenge invaded our country. Not one household escaped the wrath of ego that shattered our birth land. Revenge was followed up by tribalism as the TPLF shattered Ethiopia with Ethnic Federalism and encouraged social indifference towards those who do not share our dialect, religion or outlook. Forty four years after the death of Haile Selassie, our nation stands at the brink of dissolution. I became a refugee as a direct consequence of these tribulations that beset Ethiopia as my family and I were forced to flee my birth land at the age of seven. My story is not exclusive to me, this is the heart breaking story of the diaspora that I’m channeling at this moment.
The taxi driver who once lived in Addis Abeba embraced by family and joyfulness only to arrive in a new land and seek reprieve from sorrow through Tizita and sips of black labels. The barista who used to live in Dire Dawa only to flee her home and forced to work countless hours barely able to keep up with the bills as she cries herself to sleep at night. The maid in Dubai who once lived in Sidamo but now toiling alone and contemplating dark thoughts. The executive who called Mek’ele home only to flee abroad, surrounded by the trappings of wealth and success yet still feels bareness that no amount of material gains can fill. The college student who was born in America who desperately wants to connect to her heritage even as she struggles to speak her language. These are our people hurting.
We are all diaspora; even those in Ethiopia feel the emptiness as they struggle to make sense of it all. A land that has enough resources to make all prosperous has instead been turned into a donor nation. Unemployment is rampant among the youth, tribal friction is on the rise as lawlessness and mob justice is threatening to send Ethiopia into the abyss. A nation that existed intact for 3,000 years is nearing a precipice; if the chaos and violence that is flaring up in Moyale, Guji, Awassa finds a foothold in Addis Abeba, I shudder at the thought of what will happen next.
Ethiopia is at an inflection point; we are staring at a fork in the road. Our choices before us are simple, either we temper our emotions and really look into our hearts or we add logs onto the fire of anger and watch our nation become Hotel Rwanda as ethnic strife disintegrates a biblical land. Now is not the time for vindictiveness, the same type that unleashed terrors in the 1970’s, now is the time for fiker (love) above all. Nothing good will come from retaliation, as Martin Luther King Jr. once noted, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
I do not write this to be pious, rather it’s precisely because I know first-hand the harmful effects of wrath that I am moved to speak against it. By all accounts, I was the quintessential American success story. A first generation immigrant who grew up in Virginia the son of a taxi driver, I went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from George Mason, an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and made six figures working at a preeminent consulting company called Booz Allen Hamilton.
However, as I entered the world of Ethiopian politics, inspired to reconnect to my people I grew estranged from, along with my reacquaintance with Amarigna came a renewed conceit that I perfected as a seven year old in Bole. Instead of reaching out to Ethiopians with humility, I tried to preach to them as if I had everything figured out. When they returned my arrogance with indifference, I paid their indifference back with rancor. This path of reprisal led me on a road to my personal perdition; from six figures, I became homeless as I roamed the streets of Greenville, South Carolina surrounded by loneliness and tizita.
I share this story with you to warn of the dangers of vengeance—an eye for an eye only begets two blind people. There are millions of us hurting but our culture teaches us to hold everything in. Sadness perceived as weakness, depression judged as instability, tears avoided like the plague, the only time we express our sorrows is during leksos (funerals). These deep and abiding wounds come out by other means; suffering that is not felt emerges through resentment. This is why our country is teetering on the edge—all want to be heard but few want to listen.
What Ethiopia needs above all is not an influx of cash, foreign investments nor do we need charity from others. What our people who suffer in Ethiopia and the rest of us abroad who also grieve apart from our homes need is a somber reflection and to look inward to heal first. Irrespective of which faith we ascribe to, each one of us needs to look within and find our center. Only as we understand our burdens and embrace what hurts can we mend as a people. Our country is breaking apart because each one of us are breaking inside, let us fix ourselves first so that our nation can mend by derivative.
As we mend within, let us also be accountable for our actions. There are historical injuries we must address, these injuries did not start 44 years ago. Our country is rife with injustices that have been borne by various tribes as leaders, including my own forefather and those who came after him, trespassed unto others in their attempt to maintain power. In this way, every tribe has been touched by affliction. Oromo, Tigray, Amhara, Somali, Anuak and beyond, there is not one community in Ethiopia that has not been scarred by discrimination.
If we are to truly heal from these past wounds, we must listen to others as much as we want to be heard. We cannot monopolize pains or else we will only be shouting to ourselves and increasing the temperature of anger in the process. We must have an open and truthful conversation about the past and the present; after all, the government was not the only malicious actor when it comes to spreading injustice. There are many within our families who have taken part in infringements, either through omission or commission, most of us have planks in our eyes as we shout about the speck of prejudice that is mauling our nation.
On this Fasika, a day that Eyesus Kristos rose from the grave to ascend to his rightful zufan (throne), let us likewise rise from spiritual death and embrace the throne of forgiveness. We are a nation that is deeply spiritual; let us return to those roots and quickly turn back to God. As we do so, let us not compete over the name or likeness of God but let us embrace the teachings of love that have always been within us. Christians and Muslims have co-existed in peace for thousands of years, let us continue this harmony by seeking humility first and being compassionate to each other. Above all, let us learn to say yikirta (sorry) and forgive each other so that we can be forgiven of our sins.
Yours in Service,
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy
A Music and Message Dedication
Below is a Fasika gift to our people, all supporters of Ethiopia and everyone around the world who has felt the touch of injustice. This music video has a message mixed with the music, it starts off as an homage to the Solomonic Kings and Queens of Ethiopia but quickly transitions to the people and the hope and suffering that they have felt. A country and a people do not belong to the monarchs, the monarchs belong to the country and the people. Zelalem tinur Ethiopia, may God bless her with 13 months of sunshine eternally and may God bless all of humanity.
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the Chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. He is the direct descendant of Atse Tewodros II, the once Emperor of Ethiopia who united a fractured nation during Zemene Mesafint (age of princes) and imbued Ethiopia with a sense of togetherness that enabled them to eventually defeat Italy at the battle of Adwa. Lij Teodrose was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia but grew up in America. He has a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University and an Masters of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. Lij Teodrose believes in one Ethiopia and that a nation can only be judged by the wellness of the least among us.