When people feel hopeless and their outlook for the future seems bleak, it is only natural to become defensive and blame others who struggle just like us. The growing strife and ethnic clashes taking place in Ethiopia are not happening in a vacuum; the loss of civility and the metastasizing grievances are borne out of frustration with the current state of our nation and memories of violations that have never been addressed.

During times of tribulation, the people who gain the largest audience are not the ones who preach of unity but those who incite animosity. There is a reason why tribal demagogues garner wide appeal while those who counsel compassion and solidarity are frequently relegated to the sidelines. If you take a look back throughout history, some of the darkest moments of humanity occurred during times of national hardship. When people lack opportunity and feel their God given freedoms and pursuits of happiness are impeded, they withdraw inward and lash out in bitterness.   

Such is the case in Ethiopia, where present desperation is compounded by historical injustices. Though I often speak against firebrands who leverage the pains of the marginalized for their own benefits, I try my best to not vilify the everyday Ethiopian who gets swept up in the emotions and becomes vindictive. Though I encounter my challenges and life is far from perfect, I am mindful of the fact that the average Ethiopian back home deals with a lot more adversities than I do. Who am I to judge from afar when I don’t have to negotiate between paying rent and putting food on the table for my family?

We would not let ethnicity or religion dictate how we treat children, why can’t we treat each other with the same benefit of love instead of focusing on our differences?

It is better if we take the time to listen instead of reacting with anger. Various communities throughout Ethiopia—I do not use the word tribe because that word was injected in our psyche by mercenaries— have felt the burden of exclusion, acknowledging these wounds does not mean we take responsibility for them. Conversations lead to healing, instead of bashing each other about past transgressions and current discriminations, why not listen with open hearts with the aim of arriving at solutions? Though separatism is a path to ruin, we can’t force unity upon others without making sure that their voices are heard in the process.

There are many factions fighting to monopolize suffering in Ethiopia and beyond but the truth is that all of us have felt the agony of loss. Decades, if not centuries, of ordeals have ingrained in our hearts the tears of our forefathers and the dissonance of present circumstances. How many among us can say that they have not been mobbed by iniquities? Every family bears the torment of death, dispossession and displacement deep in their hearts.

In a lot of ways, the issues taking place back home and throughout the “diaspora” have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with emotional and spiritual division. Considering that a genocide of massive scale took place in Ethiopia less than fifty years ago, the fact that millions sought safety through exodus and the ones who remained endured another four decades of brutality and suppression, in all honesty it is a blessing that we have remained intact through all these upheavals.

Half a century of surviving must give way to the next paradigm of healing and thriving. Doing so requires us to have honest conversations with the aim of mending instead of yelling past each other to prove superiority. We must find the will within ourselves to resolve our differences and forge a path forward based on mutual respect and empathy. After all, the person who might have a different dialect or practices a different faith is human just like us and shares our struggles to create a better life and has the same hopes of providing for loved ones.

We are not each other’s enemy; in fact if we hope to bend the arc of our country towards justice, it will only be possible if we buy into the notion of collective healing. There is no way to arrive at peace and prosperity through self-centered pursuits, we will either all make it to greener pastures together or we will be in famine separately. Contrary to popular beliefs, it is not scarcity in Ethiopia that has impoverished our country but an inadequacy of imagination. The minute we realize the value of collaboration instead of competing over dirkosh is the minute we will rise once more as a nation.

Most social ills —from crime, burgeoning tribalism and compounding despair—are traceable to economic inequalities. Instead of fighting over politics and dying over ethnic conflict, we can all reap the benefits of cooperation when we start focusing on building industries and empowering Ethiopians without bias to identity. In our hands we hold both the locks to our prison and the keys to our redemption; we can either choose to keep bickering apart or we can work together for the sake of restoration.

For the future of #Ethiopia and our children, I pray we choose collaboration rooted in the foundation of compassion. Click To Tweet

“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” ~ Nelson Mandela