We are a society that has never dealt with the traumas of the 1970’s. Far from healing from the horrific events that led to the genocide of more than 500,000 at the hands of Mengistu Hailemariam and his henchmen, traumas were compounded by another 27 years of despotism that instilled fear and loathing deep into the psyche of our nation. The first step towards restoration is to admit we have a problem, but we have been so scarred emotionally and spiritually that we would rather resort to insults and screaming matches instead of having conversations that can lead us to rejuvenation.
Grant it, my memory of Ethiopia is fleeting and distant; I left my birth land at the age of seven in 1982. Thirty seven years of assimilation and chasing the America dream has robbed me of my ability to speak Amharic fluently and washed away my accent. All I have are faded memories of my time in Bole, my grandmother Emaye and the happiness I felt as a child in a land that I love with all my heart. Yet in between these recollection of mirth, I remember the angst that my parents felt and the sense of uneasiness they harbored.
In hindsight, I realize why my parents were so apprehensive and why they used to try to hush me up whenever I used to talk freely about Ethiopia. Society was truly Orwellian back then, Ethiopians were distrustful of friends and strangers alike during the height of Marxism in Ethiopia. For a good reason too, the Derg would lock up anyone that was suspected of being subversive or associated with the opposition. All it took was an unsubstantiated allegation or a whisper of gossip for agents to knock at your door. Untold number of Ethiopians disappeared and were never heard of again without being accorded due process or the right to face their accuser.
In order to cow Ethiopians and subdue society into compliance, the Derg initiated a Red Terror campaign that shook the foundation of the whole nation. Their first targets were the nobility as they murdered Haile Selassie and eradicated anyone associated with the Ethiopian crown. They then went after landowners and the upper-class as they created social parity by making everyone equally poor. Lastly, they went after the keepers of our history and heritage with the intention of remaking the nation in their image and destroying our dignity in the process. By eradicating the elders, the Derg ruptured our connection to our past and induced chaos.
These things I write about are deeply injurious events that mauled a generation of Ethiopians. I was lucky to a point, I was a child while these things were taking place back home. My parent’s generation were not so fortuitous; though they salvaged their lives as best as they could for the sake of their children, in quiet moments when they are alone, they are still haunted by memories of fear, uncertainty and tragic losses that was part of day to day living during the Derg era. Those who were not able to flee Ethiopia and stayed behind endured the horrors of Marxism only to be treated to the mendacity of the TPLF and the ethnic apartheid they erected that still palls a shadow over Ethiopia to this day.
I bring up these ghosts of the past to give context to a broader issue and to get to the root of the problem when it comes to the way we treat each other as a people. Gripped by the traumas of the 1970’s and beset by the tribalism that has been foisted upon us by the EPRDF, we are unable to have dialogues and instead have chosen to segregate ourselves in the ghettos of ethnicity and ideologies. Each year that passes, we keep building more and more walls between ourselves. From politics to social events, there is not one aspect of our culture that has not been impacted by this virus of zeregnenet (tribalism) and “us versus them” that has embedded itself into the fabric of our nation.
Differences are met with scorn and divergent ideas are treated as heresy; if you are not 100% in line with someone then you are labeled persona non-grata and vilified as if you are the second coming of Caligula. Even faith is not immune to this cancer of tribalism as people are creating churches based on ethnicity and in the process dishonoring the teachings of Eyesus who told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The ego has metastasized and overcome our hearts; all or nothing thinking has led us into the dead end of petty selfishness and an utter disregard for suffering unless it is impacting our kin.
It has gotten so bad that every good idea comes with a litmus test. Last week we organized an event called Tenenet that dealt with mental illnesses within our community and ways to seek wellness. This was not a political event in the least and not once did we advertise it as such, yet there were people that were starting whisper campaigns about the event because I happen to have an opinion that is different than the one they hold. Instead of approaching me directly and having conversations about my viewpoints, some chose to throw darts from the shadows with the intention of destroying anything that does not fit their narrow outlook.
I criticize PM Abiy the way I used to criticize Hailemariam Desalegn and Meles Zenawi before him, my evaluation is not based on their ethnicity but grounded in the demand that our leaders enact policies that benefit all Ethiopians instead of enriching foreign interests and a fraction of society. But people who are tainted by tribal politics and decades of mistrust see ghosts where none exist, in one week alone I was accused of being an Abiy supporter and an Abiy detractor. In this paradigm of pervasive suspicion everyone is ascribed with hidden motives; sinners and saints alike are lumped in together and all are treated as enemies to be conquered instead of fellow Ethiopians.
We have become a sick, sick society who would rather eat our young and burn bridges instead of working together. Given this spirit of nihilism, people who actually want to make a difference are discouraged from entering into the public realm. Those who have the audacity to defy intimidation are eventually driven out by a public that would rather point five fingers of accusation instead of extending a helping hand to advance our nation. The ones who remain are the usual suspects, the same retread politicians and recycled activists who are leading the caravan of hatred and vilification to begin with.
The Derg is not history, it is still with is. The faces at the top have changed but the institution of secrecy, demonization and persecution are still with us. If we do not break this fever soon and find ways to talk to each other, the next step for Ethiopia is to become the Yugoslavia of Africa. My fellow Ethiopians, I humbly ask you from the bottom of my heart, let us not turn our strength into a weakness by fighting over our differences. The diversity of our people and our thinking is our greatest treasure; let us love our neighbors as we love ourselves so that we can finally heal from the traumas of the past.
Let us do as advised in Psalms 68:31 and turn our hand quickly back to God and to the love and unity that kept us free of colonization and had Ethiopia respected the world over. If we collaborate instead of competing, we can thrive as a people instead of fighting over dirkosh crumbs. Ethiopia has enough to feed the entire continent and lead Africa into a new age of independence and shared prosperity.We can either thrive through togetherness or continue down this path of separatism and suffer "independently". #Ethiopia Click To Tweet
If we are to turn the state of our nation around and find redemption after 44 years of destruction, we can only do so through truth and reconciliation. We must stop pretending that all is well and saying “dehna negn” when our insides are hurting. Undealt pains manifests in many forms, some people hurl insults, some act out in violence, some isolate and harm themselves. All these things are byproducts of separating from our source, we will not be restored as a nation unless we heal within ourselves. It is time to face our traumas instead of passing them on to the next generation.
Pay attention to this video below, there is a message mixed in with the music, the only way to heal is not through anger and vengeance but through love and returning to our source.
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.