The Man in the Arena—Eskinder Nega and Those Who Normalize Discrimination & Injustice

11 mins read

Getaneh Kassahun

One of my favorite US presidents, and one of four to grace the big skies in Mt Rushmore, the 26th POTUS Theodore Roosevelt, a year after he left office, travelled to Europe and delivered one of the best speeches at Sorbonne in Paris (my hero PM Aklilu HW’s alma mater).

The speech was about the responsibilities of citizenship and what it takes to make a difference. It’s also a sharp indictment against cynics and critics who looked down at people who are trying to make society fair and a better place while they watch as bystanders. Here is part of Teddy Roosevelt’s speech:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1910, Sorbonne.

(I encourage you to google the speech, read it in its entirety and muse (or rather weep) how America end up with the Orange Matter 110 years later.)

Eskinder has always been, and is–the Man in the Arena: in print journalism, in and out of jail for over two decades, activism, political party—he’s in the Arena and doing it with absolute integrity and pure intention (a rarity in a county with a cesspool of politicians with no integrity and fraudulent intentions  and outright mugger ‘activists’). This past weened and last few days, he was with displaced people, in prison, out of prison and then with families of assassinated young man. Some background:

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic where everything ‘non-essential’ is shut-down and people are ordered to quarantine and practice ‘social distancing’, the Addis Ababa City administration, led by astroturfing ‘mayor’ has been demolishing ‘illegal’ homes of non-Oromo residents’ and throwing families out on the streets and bused several hundred of Amhara daily laborers back to so-called Amhara region—essentially people have been deported from their own country. At the same time period, organized Oromo youth who come from provinces, ‘Qeerroo’—with carpentering tools, iron-sheets and building materials in hand– were taking ‘procession’ of green areas in some parts of the city: fencing plots off and erecting sheds—with no law enforcement action insight. Apparently, demographic re-engineering was so an essential government business it must continue under Coronavirus SOE. The “Oromo-ization” of Addis Ababa has been a top priory for all OLF factions, though they differ on the how. Some extremists like Bekele Geriba desperately want to do it the medieval way—quick mass ethnic cleansing and genocide, while others want to do it slowly—just as described above. Similar demolitions and displacements of non-Oromo Ethiopians has been ongoing, at various scales in Addis Ababa and its environs since Apartheid TPLF Pillaging Racket has been expelled to Mekelle.

This troubling and persistent tacit special treatment of one ethnic group where those from hundreds of KM are sponsored to “settle” while some longstanding residents are displaced and discriminated, is a window to the other side of the government of PM Abiy.

True to character, Eskinder was in the Arena. As has been widely documented, he met (from what I can from a safe physical distance) the disparate displaced families—their belongings and hard-earned household items scattered with the bulldozer crew destroying more homes in the background. Eskinder heard the cries of men and mothers and promised them he will be their voice. He advised them to be peaceful at any-time—despite the violence they face. The next day, he was arrested by Police—accused of violating ‘Coronavirus SOE’. Eskinder was the only public figure was able to shade light on a hidden and dark shenanigan of this masquerading ethnically tinged regime, as he has done many times since he was released from Apartheid TPLF’s dungeon. Eskinder’s effort exposed the government that craves and seeks international veneer of legitimacy. Amenity International has issued a well-documented report on April 29, 2020, titled “Forced evictions in Addis Ababa render jobless workers homeless amid Covid-19”. At the time of this writing, Police has refused to return Eskinder’s phone and is invading his privacy, presumably, illegally accessing his private data.

Eskinder’s actions cannot be without controversy and thus legitimate criticism is expected. For example, last week I expressed my dismay at the “Peacock vs black-maned lion” brouhaha as unnecessary topic though personally I don’t like the birdy thing which doesn’t exist in Ethiopia and is alien to people’s psyche. However, given the pandemic era and so many changes are taking place, I felt this shouldn’t takeaway further bandwidth from others. But that is just one data point in a continuum.

Many people may critique whether he has organized his newly formed party well enough, whether his activism time or journalist period is more productive. He may err, some of his initiatives might have been more fined tuned, other not pursued, etc. That’s all fair as Eskinder is in the arena.

However, no one should be cheering (and even wishing) his arrest and losing his freedom yet again. Especially more so those who used to dispense too much you-know-what and too much ink about freedom and democracy and all that. Alas that’s what has come to pass (it incensed me to writeup this post).  Case in point: former Ginbot-7 PR, the constantly foot-in-mouth, loose cannon, with severely impaired judgment on many important issues, Ephrem Madebo—upon hearing the arrest of Eskinder, blurted out a twit—supporting the imprisonment of Eskinder. Two years ago, he was all talk about freedom and democracy and all that before he became (with informal role) part of the docile sold out pseudo opposition party. This party abandoned the Addis Ababa people and turned a blind eye and deaf ears on displacements and government led naked ethnic nepotisms—in exchange for nothing more than mere Palace gossip (“oh, shush! it’s a bit of a secret! but I tell you:  PM Abiy told me this and that. Oh my God, how much he knows, I tell you!”), face time and more pictures with Great Leader and slap in the back. What a farce!


Normalizing Ethnic-Nepotism and Discrimination

Foot-in-the-mouth Ephrem was not the only one who blurted approving vomit about Eskinder’s arrest. Some former Ginbot-7 activists (and their tentacles in the diaspora) and opportunist jackals giggled and sneered at Eskinder’s arrest (though many were forced to lick their spits upon Eskinder’s prompt release). Some other ignorant weasels, from the comfort of their sidelines and away from the horror of the displaced mothers, were also equating imperfections of Eskinder, who gave everything and more, as somehow improper.

What’s surprising is these people don’t give a damn about tens of thousands who’re being left homeless, displaced and traumatized right in front of them, few miles from where they sip their macchiatos. We have seen this for the last two years. You would think at least the aggrieved deserve their complete silence when few individuals and groups like Eskinder and his team are trying to shed light on cynical ethnically motivated injustice. But no! Not only will they ignore the plight of the people and parroting the regime’s talking points, they go out of their way to make naked nepotism and discrimination based on ethnicity normalized. Somehow, sneering and mocking someone who has given all and attempts to be the voice of the voiceless is the new “woke” and virtue signaling! Thank you, our 3D-chess geniuses!

But in the end the invertebrate nitpickers, chin-stroking bystanders and shameful virtue signalers will not count. As Teddy Roosevelt said, the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. The credit belongs to the doer, the one in the arena.

Thank you Eskinder!


  1. Well articulated!
    The talker needs attention. The talker needs validation, the talker would rather talk about an idea than confront the complexities, its obstacles. The talker wants the glory but none of the hard work. Jack Heffron. In the case of Ethiopia’s politicians, the kind of —- they are looking a handout from the power that be by being a cheerleader not only when it is right, but when it is outright wrong. When one operates within moral forgery playing politics with the dispossessed becomes an expendable rout to follow. More than any political group in today’s Ethiopia Eskender was an ability to neutralize the hovering danger single-handedly. We are grateful for that. Does he err? yes, but he is humble enough to correct it.

  2. Dear Getaneh Kassahun,
    You seem to be all over the place to absolve your hero Eskinder’s reckless act. There is a law in effect about not meeting in larger groups because of covid19. The law was put in place to protect people. I thought that was clear to everyone. Eskinder thinks he is above the law. He is so silly that he could not imagine his action is a danger to society. Covid19 actually kills! I do commend him for his concern for the homeless. I also find it irresponsible of him to think he alone could get away with breaking the law.

  3. Eskinder is the only man of integrity in the whole of Ethiopia. Where are the leaders of the more than 100 so-called parties? Where are the leaders of Ethiopian Human Rights Group? And, where are the leaders of the main religious groups?
    To me, there is no human rights violations as egregious as destroying people’s homes in this age and era of social distancing that you can’t even get refuge with close relatives due to COVID-19. Obviously the leaders in power have no fear of God nor humanity. There is nothing that they won’t do to cleanse the city that was built by all Ethiopians over 100-year period. The only way that this madness can be stopped is by all means of resistance.

  4. Eskinder is the only one who stood up for the people whose homes were demolished without any concern as to where they will shelter in the era of COVID-19 and the rainy season approaching.
    Where are the more than 100 parties leaders, religious leaders, Ethiopia’s Human Rights group and conscientious citizens?
    Are such gross human rights violations by government acceptable?
    God save our people.

  5. Eskindir Nega is fighting for the old regime to come back which is Orthodox lead
    , a one country, one relegin & one people which is Amharaization mask & baseball cap has been removed by the he rising star journalist of LTV, Betty.

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