Working Toward the Promise of the Blessing of Ethiopian Unity
MAY 1999. BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS
SPEECHES & ARTICLES
What a pleasure it is to be with you in Boston today to be able to celebrate with Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians alike the importance of the preservation of Ethiopia’s unique and rich culture and heritage. I would like to thank the Ethiopian Community in Boston and the Ethiopian National Congress for inviting me to make a few remarks today on our beloved country. Unfortunately, I must leave you today after this gathering to return to Philadelphia where one of the champions of Ethiopian freedom, Dr Asrat Woldeyes, lies gravely ill, the result of many years of illegal and cruel imprisonment. His life has been shortened by intolerance, but his legacy lengthened by his resistance to this fact.
Boston recently witnessed the stamina and grace of Fatuma Roba in the Boston Marathon. By winning the race, and raising our Ethiopian flag high, she championed what is best in all of us. Fatuma reminded us of the power of perseverance, the will to win against all odds. Fatuma brought to the world, in a flash, the focus of international admiration. She inspired and motivated us with her pride in her Ethiopianness.
Today, because of incessant civil wars, there are attempts to polarize Ethiopian society into its various national elements, undoing the painstaking historical process of unification. Pride in Ethiopianness is discouraged today by those who control our country. Amharas are no longer expected to look out for the interests of Oromos; the Oromos are not expected to care about the fate of Tigreans, and so on.
Is this really “progress”? Is this really “self-determination”? Xenophobia is the opposite of the kind of expansive and embracing national pride which Fatuma Roba showed us.
In a world increasingly dominated by global languages, global economic trends, and seamlessly-integrated communications, can we expect that the life of an Oromo-speaking child will be better because someone said: “Your own language is the source of all pride and all attempts at working with your kinsmen across a nearby border are worthless.”?
Of course not!
Yes! it is important to know your local language, culture and customs. Yes! it is important to bring decisionmaking processes closer to the people. But ethnic chauvinism is the ugly face of ethnic politics.
Politicians wish to retain power regardless of the fact that they cannot inspire the many and richly-varied people of the Great Ethiopian Empire to support a common dream. The kind of ethnic federalism we see in Ethiopia today is a method to divide and rule the people, so that those in power, who are a minority, may not be challenged. What the world is weeping about in the former Yugoslavia is the problem which Ethiopians have been bearing for the past six years. In Ethiopia, “ethnic cleansing”, chauvinism and hatred have been conducted without television cameras, while an unwitting world applauded what it called “a new generation of leaders” in Africa. It seems like the same old generation of suspicion, hatred and greed to many of us.
We have seen our society become less tolerant, more isolated, and embroiled in yet another spate of internal and regional conflicts. This, in a region where instability reigns, is a very worrisome feature.
Where we should be tackling the problems of poverty, lack of education, AIDS and the lack of adequate healthcare generally, as well as the lack of infrastructure, we are being lured by the macabre sideshow of another war: the very fundamental negation of human rights.
Ethiopians have created a courageous and inherently democratic society of peoples. So where people demand the right to ask questions, the government must not take this to be a subversive act. It is a fundamental right! We must all learn to practice the art of negotiation and avoid resort to war. We have tried war, and it has aged us beyond the unbroken 3,000 years of our unified culture.
And if Ethiopians are fundamentally courageous and democratic, they are also proud and fiercely independent. We have jealously guarded our independence to a degree never seen in any other country in the world. We have never allowed our country to be submerged into a colonial entity. Our forefathers have sacrificed heavily for this. And so many more Ethiopians in recent months and years have sacrificed themselves for the preservation of Ethiopia.
We must not become a lost generation, succumbing to greed, selfishness and anarchy. We must begin to build an increasingly harmonious and prosperous society.
We will not achieve this, however, if we jeopardize our national ability to unite in order to respond to threats to our security and sovereignty.
Unless we — as individuals and as Ethiopian nations — absolutely and consciously commit to building a society which is founded on tolerance and respect for alternative views, one which is rooted in reconciliation, then we are further weakening our country. Ultimately, by inaction, or by mirroring the ethnic separatism of the ruling Addis politicians, we jeopardize our existence as a multi-communal, multi-religious state.
The administration in Ethiopia — if it is to build a civil society which retains Ethiopia’s present or historic borders — must make tangible changes in its policies.
Subjugation can only work for a while, and while subjugation is in place, prosperity is absent.
Through all of this, the Ethiopian Crown remains there for the people of Ethiopia, as their impartial symbol of unity. It is there to offer inspiration and hope. It is there to protect the Constitution of the People’s choice.
The Crown must remain above politics, and offer the long-term leadership which establishes the framework of society, the freedom of peoples to accord each other respect, the freedom of people to work together to progress the wellbeing and happiness of all.
The Crown is there to remind Ethiopians of every communal, linguistic and religious group of their proud history.
We pray to see our flag — raised here in Boston by Fatuma Roba — fly high and proudly once more in Ethiopia. For what made Ethiopia a uniquely proud culture was the fact that the Ethiopian Lion Flag flew over a number of uniquely proud cultures which came together and by consensus created a sum even greater than the total of its parts.
An astronaut in the United States once said that the technology which took him to the heavens was the sum of many parts, each made by the lowest bidder. Ethiopia is the sum of many parts each made by the highest bidders: the peoples who have given their lives to the fulfillment of their cultures. Ethiopia as a whole has a quality based on the historic and unique brilliance of its individual parts. And only by consensus does this society move safely, confidently and intact into the future.