The rampant rise of tribalism and the senseless bickering that is taking place between Ethiopians in not unique to our country, this is what happens when a few extremists are allowed to dictate public discourse. Even those who know better, every day people who are imbued with compassion and decency, are sidetracked when they ingest too much animosity that is prevalent in our time.
This much is true, as Martin Luther King once eloquently stated, we cannot hope to drive out darkness with more darkness. Easier said than done, to react to hate with anger is a natural part of our baser instincts. It is precisely this conniption of ours that is being leveraged by ethnic grievance peddlers on all sides in the hopes of making a name for themselves by breaking us apart. It’s not just about divide and conquer, there are many who gleefully segregate and prosper as a means to elevate themselves.
What many fail to realize is that hatemongers who have been loosened upon Ethiopia do not care about their followers. Opportunists like Jawar Mohammed and his fellow tribal ministers are cynically using historical wounds and people’s tribulations as a business model. The same practice that is used by corporations to create brand awareness is being leveraged by ethnic politicians and identity hustlers alike; isolate a base, cater to their angers, frame a nemesis and then build a following by driving a message through the lens of “us vs them”.
To my chagrin, more and more Ethiopians are falling for this bamboozle as they are conditioned to embrace ethnicity and turn away from unity. A country that is already suffering from mass poverty, an exploding rate of unemployment and massive displacement is deteriorating under the weight of sectarian strife. Instead of marshaling our resources to improve the plight of Ethiopia, we are wasting valuable resources and precious energy arguing over our differences. Empty pride is leading us towards a disintegration that will harm all without bias to identity.
Just this week at the World Athletics Championship in Doha, Qatar, what should have otherwise been a moment of national unity and pride was hijacked by ethnic firebrands. Instead of cheering on their fellow countrymen and women who achieved some truly amazing feats, some came out to the stadium to make political points and turned Ethiopia into a punchline in the process. The humiliation of it all as grown adults turned into teenagers and heckled each other instead of celebrating together.
This one incident became a microcosm of a much bigger germ that has infected Ethiopia. Irrespective of our political, religious or ideological beliefs, there are times we should put our differences aside to work for the common good. But this spirit of togetherness is being made impossible by fanatics who insist on raising up their tribe and stepping on anyone else who does not talk, think or act just like them. This radicalism is passed on like a winter flu as people react with yet more antipathy; empathy being bled away by the need to prove points and get the last word.
What is lost amid all this bickering is the human suffering that is taking place in Ethiopia. There are countless millions of people who are in such dire conditions that many brave hellish travels through deserts and zones of violence in order to search for opportunities that are not afforded to them in their own country. As the “elites” brag about shiny skyscrapers being built in Addis Abeba, there is an army of street children who sleep on concretes and have to beg in order to eat. These facts are lost on too many of us who would rather fight about flags, dialects and politics and use the afflictions that people go through as weapons to conquer others.
The sad irony is that most Ethiopians who engage in this level of tribal hostility are unleashing venom against their own lineage. After thousands of years of living together in the same neighborhoods and intermarriages that have been prevalent between the different ethnic groups in Ethiopia, the truth is that none of us are pure anything. Almost all of us are byproducts of various “tribes”, I myself can trace my roots to at least Amhara and Tigray just on my dad’s side and that’s only going back seven generations.
If I lined up ten Ethiopians of different “tribes” and asked people to identify them based on their ethnicity, it would be almost impossible to figure out who is who. Facts matter little when people are hell bent on proving superiority at the cost of someone else. In the quest to quench our rage by drinking from the waters of indifference, we forget this one overriding thing: adversity does not differentiate. We are so focused on ethnicity that we overlook our parallel struggles and our common humanity.
Somewhere in Ethiopia an Oromo mother is grieving a child she lost to violence, an Amhara father is anxiety ridden at the thought of not being able to provide for his family, Tigray children have to face a bleak future of poverty yet we let tribe blind us to these injustices. While we have the luxury of using social media to initiate tribal wars, our people are being inundated by unending woes. If we truly care about ameliorating iniquities, we would find ways to work together instead of throwing darts at one another.
It makes more and more sense why we are advised to leave vengeance to the Lord. The heart is deceptive above all else, the minute we allow bitterness to infect our minds we lose all perspective. We are witnessing the devastating consequences of wrath as resentment gives way to indignation which ends up begetting fury from others. It’s almost as though we are intent on grabbing each other’s hands and jumping off the cliff instead of extending hands of goodwill in order to mend our nation.
The words Haile Selassie spoke at the UN in 1963 about the need to end wars applies as much to our nation today as it did about social conditions fifty years ago:
“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained. And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; until that day, the African continent will not know peace.”
The keys to peace and prosperity have always been the same, we must stop objectifying each other and instead see each other as fellow brothers and sisters. The most lethal wars we fight are not the ones we read about in history books but the ones we wage in our hearts. What is taking place at this moment in Ethiopia and throughout the world is a conflict that starts within our hearts and spreads outward like a deadly virus—love is the only cure.
Yet, as grim as the present looks and as hopeless as the future might seem, I am comforted by this one thought: there is a greater God that looks over us than our egos that keep indenturing us. Ethiopia has been through a lot worse than this, we faced onslaughts of invasions, would be colonization and a chemical holocaust that decimated my grandparent’s generation. Through it all, Egziabher looks over us and keeps us in His arms in spite of ourselves.
We will endure this storm and in time we will turn away from zeregnenet, embrace Ethiopiawinet and our hold tight to humanity above that. I pray that we will learn these lessons not through mass leksos (funerals) and unending tears but through wisdom that already resides in our hearts. When we rise above petty politics and ethnic grievances, our country will be healed and the children who suffer back home will have hope once more.A kalkidan (promise) of restoration awaits us, it is up to us to walk in grace to find it. #Ethiopia Click To Tweet
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ~ Galatians 5:14
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.