It is said that the truth sets people free. Sadly, this fact has been lost on too many Ethiopians as we prefer to lead lives of tigab (pride) and mister (secrecy); these twin pillars of vanity have put us into bondage and threatens to shatter our beloved nation. It wasn’t always this way, my grandparent’s generation were a dignified lot who had love for their country and thought of community above narrow self-interests.
Forty-four years after the Derg overthrew Haile Selassie and twenty-seven years after tribal chieftains loosened apartheid upon Ethiopia, we find ourselves lost in despair as we self-medicate through tizita (memories) of past glory and indifference of present transgressions. We would rather pretend that all is going perfectly as the foundation of our country cracks beneath our feet; every day we get closer and closer to disintegration yet the modus operandi of society is to put on a mask of apathy as we shrug our shoulders and say “chiger yelem” (no problem).
We are a nation of chiger. Year over year,our problems multiply as ethnic hatred, callousness and greed have become the calling cards of the privileged class while the majority of Ethiopians back home are mired in poverty and hopelessness. It is time to put aside the bravado and speak harsh truths. Specifically, I want to take this moment to talk about what occurred in the years leading up to 1974 and the overthrow of the Ethiopian monarchy and the subsequent set of events that witnessed the fall of Ethiopia from a nation respected by many into the charity case of the world.
Truth #1: Haile Selassie and the nobility committed grievous mistakes
I know this statement will rub a lot of monarchists the wrong way and will especially upset those who have made an icon out of the last king of Ethiopia. Before I go on too much further, I must stipulate one thing for the sake of full transparency. Though I’ve always given Haile Selassie credit for stitching a country incinerated by Mussolini’s chemical weapons and acknowledged his pan-African vision, there was a time in my life where I harbored resentment towards Selassie due to the way my grandfather Million Tedla and a lot of arbagnoch who fought against the Italians were executed upon Selassie’s return from exile. However, putting my personal feelings aside, I still try to assess the reign of Haile Selassie with objectivity sans animosity.
Haile Selassie’s biggest flaw was his determination to stay in power no matter the cost. Not only that, he also tried to change the rules of succession to benefit only his children and in the process deviated from the norms that ensured the selection of a successor based on merit. Meanwhile, the warning signs of popular discontent were piling up; by the time he finally acted it was too late. The working class and the poor were tired of being marginalized in their own nation, instead of addressing the needs of the vulnerable, Haile Selassie was determined to cater to highly-educated and well-to-do crowd. As irony would have it, the very same students Haile Selassie sought after are the ones who protested and brought him down.
Perhaps if more attention was paid to the suffering of the “commoners”, the students and professionals who demanded change would not have gathered as much momentum as they did. The years leading up to the overthrow became overbearing as the level of indignity heaped upon the poor and working class kept expanding. Though it did not rise to the level of Zemene Mesafint (age of princes), pockets of hardships and injustice kept proliferating and too often effective leadership was absent and more and more people started to feel that their government was not responsive to their needs.
As my compatriot Mel Tewahade noted a few days ago, the same Marxist thugs who committed a genocide against Ethiopians and the TPLF jingoists who came after the Derg, both pawns of foreign powers, have spent the past 44 years spreading vicious propaganda about the monarchy. However, as much as I push back against the lies of bandas (traitors), we should acknowledge the failings of Haile Selassie and past monarchs before him as much as we give credit where they deserve it. There were injustices committed against certain groups and some nobles lived lavishly while the rest suffered. We must be truthful on these matters or else we are no better than the current crop of leaders who lead through diversions and deception.
Truth #2: A problem that could have been resolved through moderation instead was made infinitely worse by radicals
Extremism in the face of injustice frequently leads to bigger injustices. Ethiopians learned this lesson the hard was as the reign of Haile Selassie gave way to the tyranny of the Derg and the TPLF who came after them. What Mengistu Hailemariam and his thugs unleashed once they assumed power is a terror that matched the horror Mussolini purveyed upon Ethiopia during the second Italian aggression. By killing more than 500,000 Ethiopians, assassinating elders and respected thinkers and unleashing a campaign of bloodshed across the land, the Derg cowed a people who have never been defeated by colonizers into submission.
After trying to subjugate Ethiopia for more than five decades, European powers figured out that we could not be subdued on the battle field. They went back to the drawing boards and decided to conquer Ethiopia not through war but through internal divisions. The Derg did not appear out of thin air, the west left Haile Selassie out to dry even though Ethiopia was right by the side of NATO during the Korean War and after. The Derg was a manifestation of a plan to fracture Ethiopia, a plan that came into full focus when the British and Americans selected the TPLF to assume power at the London Conference in 1991. What we are seeing now is the slow unveiling of a plan to turn Ethiopia into the next Yugoslavia.
More than two decades after the Derg were overthrown, we still don’t talk about the White Terror and the Red Terror that ensued. Ethiopians learned the hard way the value of silence for fear of death. Self-preservation taught us to look the other way and beat us into submission, I firmly believe that our nation is still suffering from a collective post-traumatic stress syndrome but we are so prideful and loath to admit weakness that we would rather smile and say “dehna negn” (I am well) even as we are crying inside. Some motivated by guilt while others are inspired by sorrow, we perfected the art of feigned happiness as joys escape us—leksos (funerals) are the only times we bleed our sorrows.
Truth #3: We’ve lost our way as we chase modernity while disparaging our heritage
A stint with Marxism followed up with a rendezvous with economic development by way of globalism has transformed our nation in ways that is truly saddening. The culture our forefathers fought and died to preserve at Adwa and during World War II we now willingly disrespect. In the quest to attain modernity, we have been conditioned to reject the very essence of Ethiopianism. In the process, we have let our differences become bigger than our oneness. Ethiopia is being erased on a daily basis by too many who have been programmed to seek self-gratification above community.
In this race towards irrelevance, every institution within Ethiopia and abroad has failed us. Our country is teetering on the edge of insolvency yet leaders would rather focus on symbolism and empty rhetoric than doing the hard work of uniting the nation. Prosperity felt by few and strife embracing most, we are now firmly entrenched in the second coming of Zemene Mesafint. All want to be heard but few want to listen, it seems we only care about injustice when it hits home. The number of internally displaced Ethiopians has hit a record number, brain drain is sapping Ethiopia’s energy and our future is being mortgaged by leaders who would rather rent our country to predatory lenders instead of investing in the people.
Given these pressing matters that call for a national awakening, we have been induced into the coma of zerenet (tribalism). Our ancestors once put aside their differences to smash would be colonizers at Adwa, our generation is busy fighting along tribal lines as we let Ethiopia sink into the abyss. It takes introspection and truthful conversations to course correct, but we are too invested in machismo and never admitting mistakes to mend. We would rather go down with our secrets and pride intact than admit we are suffering and seek help. This is beyond politics, what we are in need of more than anything else is spiritual healing.
What I’ve written is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issues that are suffocating us. I don’t present this before you to be pious but to warn of what comes next if we refuse to be humble in the face of tribulation. I speak of these things from experience, it was not too long ago that my hubris and rebellion against His will led me down the path of hardship and hopelessness. The only reason I found restoration is because I learned to stop putting my ego above God.
This morning, I shared a conversation with a local Ethiopian market owner. As we were talking about the present issues confounding our homeland, we both noted that Ethiopians are being led astray from our core nature. He told me about “chilema engedas”, which translates to overnight guests. He conveyed how Ethiopians once used to knock on doors asking for lodging from perfect strangers. Not only were they invited in, they were treated like family and fed like royalty. This is the true nature of Ethiopians that I know still exists, let us return back to the Ethiopia that shared successes and suffering instead of withdrawing into ourselves.
We threw away more than 3,000 years of a continuous institution that kept us free from colonization in one fell swoop and let subversive actors in the guise of educators and charity givers convince us to chase foreign ideologies that were always meant to diminish us. What western powers could not accomplish by the gun they subjugated us through subterfuge. We are so thoroughly conditioned by outsiders that the same people who besmirch the Ethiopian monarchy are the ones who slavishly drool over the British royalty. What else can we call this but colonization by other means, it’s as though we loath our own culture as we chase western validation.
Instead of returning to our roots, we have become a nation without a moral center. A country that was once a land of royalty has become a quagmire of poverty. Everyone wants to be a king and nobody wants to be a servant, this is why we have become slaves to emperors who rule this globe invisibly. Instead of uniting like our ancestors to reclaim our nation from foreign interests, we blindly follow leaders who are mercenaries who only have an allegiance to their wallets. Rational debates trumped by yells and taunts, we are morphing into juveniles. The youth no longer respect the elders, the elders exceeding the youth in tantrums, we are following the world right into the chasm of nullification.
Psalm 68:31 is one of my favorite passages in the bible, it reads “princes shall come out of Kemet; Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hand to God”. This verse is not about just the past but of the future that awaits us; if we stop giving our hands to the failed ideologies of greed and arrogance and instead stretch forth our hands to Egziabher, a restoration for Ethiopia is ahead. If we choose the opposite and keep seeking indifference, vengeance and self-interest, woe shall be our collective names, Ethiopia will be no more and a mass-lekso shall be our collective therapy.
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.