It is not possible to heal from a sickness unless one knows the disease. Considering that Ethiopia is currently under assault from a virulent strain of tribalism that is tearing at the seams of the nation, it is important to take a step back and assess how we got here in the first place so that we can move forward. It is easy to place all the blame on the past 27 or 44 years, but the truth is that the germs of ethnocentrism, greed and indifference have been festering for more than a century and only manifested itself in 1974.
Though I advocate the return of the Ethiopian monarchy, I am by no means blind to the excesses of the past and the suffering that was caused by the negligence of the ruling class prior to 1974. Peak arrogance occurred during the age that is now called Zemene Mesafint, the age of princes, where regional despots made it their purpose to fleece the people and live like Jeff Bezos while the vast majority of Ethiopians were being ground into dust.
As abhorrent as Zemene Mesafint was, there were other periods prior to the overthrow of Haile Selassie that witnessed a disconnect between the nobility and the rest of society. My own ancestor, Atse Tewodros II, upon assuming the throne and especially after the death of his wife Tewabech, dealt harshly with anyone who questioned his authority. Menelik likewise had a propensity to turn to brute force in order to quell a restive population. During the reign of Haile Selassie, the upper echelon had a way of looking down and maligning the poor and the working class—the bubbles of insensitivity and entitlement led to the downfall of the world’s oldest monarchy.
Admitting the misdeeds of past monarchs does not besmirch their overall contributions. After all, it was Atse Tewodros who ended the era of mass-tyranny that was endemic of Zemene Mesafint. It was Menelik and Taitu who led Ethiopians into Battle at Adwa and kept Ethiopia free from colonization. It was Haile Selassie who stitched Ethiopia back together again after Mussolini committed a chemical holocaust against our ancestors. Monarchs are not infallible, they are human beings who make mistakes but that doesn’t mean we should throw out the baby with the bath water.
Yet that is precisely what happened in 1974 as the Derge swept into power and within short order murdered Haile Selassie, killed untold numbers of nobility and shortly thereafter committed a genocide against 500,000 Ethiopians. In a most ruthless and diabolical way, the Derg targeted elders, professors and community leaders—the keepers of Ethiopian heritage—as they uprooted society in an attempt to terrorize Ethiopians into compliance. 1974 was the year the parents were silenced and the children took over.
The children are now adults and have wrought us a time that is more perilous than Zemene Mesafint. The hubris that led past monarchs to commit injustices grew into a cancer of contempt over the past forty-four years, the audacity of rulers growing exponentially as the baton was passed from the Derg to the TPLF and now reigns over Ethiopia rebranded as EPRDF. In the process, admitting a mistake became a sign of weakness, leading through inclusion became passe and narcissism doubled in portion; on this soil of malfeasance grew a culture of tribalism.
Where we once shared without asking names, we are now a land divided by ethnicity and ideologies. Zemene Zeregnenet is upon our enat Ethiopia as a chorus of tribal agitators and hateful chieftains are leading us into the abyss of disintegration. Arrogance blinding too many from realizing the bleak future that awaits if simmering tensions break out into social conflicts, the prevalent moods in Ethiopia and abroad are grievance and antagonism. Everyone wants to be heard but few want to listen; even though all Ethiopians have suffered in the past and continue to languish into the present without regard to ethnicity, too many want to monopolize pains and only pursue justice through the prism of their own kin and community.Tigab (pride) and meqenegnet (grudge) has gripped the land and is threatening to eviscerate a country that stood united for more than 3,000 years. #ZemeneZeregnenet #Ethiopia Click To Tweet
To be sure, not all Ethiopians have given their hands to ethnocentrism; there are many who still believe in country above ethnicity and harbor love for their neighbors without bias to tribe. Sadly, the ones who have hijacked the microphone and pollute the airwaves with their filth are ethnic radicals like Jawar Mohammed, Birhanu Nega, Debretsion G. Michael and their followers who have drank from the well of malice and spitefulness. Ethiopians who are repulsed by tribal zealots are drowned out and diminishing by the day as more and more fall for the potent potion of separatism.
Where are the adults during this time of turbulence? Almost every institution within Ethiopia has chosen silence in the face of this growing menace. Last year Abiy Ahmed arrived out of the blue and stirred millions of Ethiopians into a frenzy of euphoria, everyone wanted to work when possibilities seemed endless. Now that the honeymoon is over and old habits are creeping back in, public sentiment is one of either exasperation, retribution or apathy.
At the core of Ethiopia’s tribulation is the inability to admit being wrong and the insistence on proving eminence. Ego has committed a coup d’etat against reason and grievance has become our immoral compass. Gluttony over community, materialism over heritage, modernity at the cost of Ethiopiawinet; these are the reasons a blessed land is buckling and slowly morphing into Yugoslavia. Layered on top of this virus of vanity is a tribal form of governance that is really nothing more than Ethnic Apartheid.
Too prideful to seek help and too secretive to admit hurt, we are a nation at war with ourselves. There is an 800 pound gorilla sitting in the room that few want to discuss; we are a people who are suffering from collective trauma. Instead of having conversations about the injuries of the past with the intention of healing, too many would rather keep the pains alive by ripping old wounds for the sake of politics. Instead of facing our demons and confronting the past, we put on a smile and say “denha negn” while crying inside our hearts. Distresses that are not addressed morph into anger and manifest into tribalism—this is Ethiopia is unraveling.
What many refuse to see is that politics is not an elixir, politics itself is the cancer that is eating away at the fabric of our nation. The cure will not be found among tribal politicians nor will it be discovered amid “Ethnic Federalism”. The way to mend our country that is breaking and heal our people who are hurting is to disavow those who preach from the pulpit of hostility and resentment embrace andinet (unity). We can’t vote and referendum ourselves out of the wilderness, freedom will not be found on ballots but through the changing of our hearts.
The problem is not the lack of democracy in Ethiopia, the problem is the disappearance of our spiritual connection to each other and our Creator. We are not like the west, we are not a land of atheism or deniers of God’s existence. Ethiopian Jews, Christians and Muslims alike embrace one God and live by His grace. Yet, as much as we believe in Egziabher, we forsake his blessings each time we let hate and resentment rule our hearts. Rituals without love, faith without works and prayer lacking action are dead. If we want to be restored and realize a kalkidan (promise) of renewal, the answer is simple, love your neighbor as yourself.
“The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is only one path to redemption and that road is called love. Watch this video and listen to the music mixed with messages that need to be heeded by Ethiopians. Let. Love. Win. #FikerYashenifal
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.