By STL Kagnew
“Because God was displeased by my fathers who reigned before me, our country was divided and a part of it was taken by the colonialists. Thus, he rose me from the ashes and bestowed me power to reunite my country.” These were the words of King Tewodros in a letter he addressed to Queen Victoria of England. At the time, Ethiopia was being divided by the Turks, Egyptians and European colonial powers. Today, the threat of colonialism has fallen to the wayside but rather than the overwhelming peace and security that should have arisen from finally establishing some semblance of democracy, what has taken over is perhaps much more sinister.
Ethiopia is facing yet another obstacle to its unity. This time, the country is not facing invaders or crusaders but it is nevertheless in a silent war. We did not hear the government declaring a war but we are clearly in a war. We do not see military or citizens marching with guns on their shoulders but it is doubtless that we are in a war. We are in arm-less and yet more harmful war. The bullets in this battle are misinformation and the use of hallway-truths for wicked purposes. The training is purposeful propaganda and dissemination of hatred. The outcome of this war is just as any physical war, the pillaging of villages, the death of men of differing views, the killing of the innocent like our venerable church fathers. We can all remember the not-so-distant past when our voices were crushed under the weight of absolute governmental power. Today, the comparatively mild nature of democracy has stimulated the worst abusers of the newly found freedom in our country. The freedom of the press has served to instill fear into the hearts of otherwise normal citizens through the dissemination of politically bent, inflammatory, and often false narratives. The new freedom of speech has given a megaphone to the loudest political dissidents who, unlike their call for blood and carnage, are safely hidden in well-endowed neighborhoods surrounded by foreigners they seem to like more than their own people. The freedom of religion has led to increasing contention among people who bring the issues of ethnicity politics even to the doors of our ancient churches. Whether we like it or not we have all been forced to take part in this battle. We may check our social media sites or watch youtube videos and feed into the twisted agendas of those who take the time to make long winded hate speeches under the pretense of “fighting prejudice” or “ defending our attacked ethnicity”. But while it is easy to spot propaganda in a government sponsored message, it is much harder to do so when the posts we read come from our family members, friends and fellow citizens. As time goes on the spread of biased information creates fear and as we have learned from our history the only predictable progeny of fear is nothing but more fear. It is very difficult to identify misinformation on the web which may come in different forms. The information may rely on a true story happening in the country but magnified to make it look like more than what it is or involve the reaction of individuals respected by the society. The videos and written news related to Ethiopia which we get daily may have something that infuriates us and makes us feel that we need to stand against our own government and fellow citizens.
Therefore, because we do not seem to be able to control the vocal antagonists of fake political outrage we must be more vigilant in controlling what we are able to control. How we handle or react to the information we receive determines our participation in this war. We may feel that our reactions to the things we see or hear on the web are appropriate. In fact, the way we pass the information to our friends, family, congregation members, and so on are nothing but fodder in the flames of distrust and ethnic hatred we claim to hate. Unlike the wars our fathers fought where they aim and shoot at their enemies, in the current modern war, we shoot haphazardly. A hatful word against the killers of one ethnic group can hurt the friend or neighbor of the same ethnic group. That friend can therefore feel attacked and defend themselves thereby leading to a cycle which neither participant wanted in the first place. As situations like this increase in frequency it is important to ask how it is that without having learned how to fight the modern battle we could possibly expect to win it. I hope you agree with me if I say no war can be won by fighters who fight without knowing their enemy or shoot without aiming.
So how do we solve this? It is evident that the enemy of tribalism and ethnic killings is not propaganda or counter-hatred but a renewal of a kind of patriotism which embraces diversity. I hope, like most in the diaspora community, to see a lasting peace and prosperity in Ethiopia. What may determine the lasting peace in Ethiopia is not what is happening in Ethiopia now but the result from the next election. The winners of the next election will have mandate to take the country to the direction they envision. Some may want unity and others want division. Some may want ethnic-based politics to continue and others want multiethnic but idea-based politics. It is noticeable that political parties are positioning themselves to win an election. It is important that citizens realize that politicians will do this by any means necessary. A particular strategy that is becoming apparent is making other parties look weak, and this is where the unsuspecting viewers and readers of misinformation become their armies and instruments for propagation. We should make sure that our apoplectic rage, tears of despair or songs of happiness is not used by groups with sinister motives.
Our reactions to information/misinformation has paramount importance. Yes, some violent activities are credible and others are not. Some of the credible information is posted not to garner support for the victims but to make us lose our confidence in the current government. These are voices and texts of deceit. They help oppositions in Oromia, Amhara, Addis Ababa, and other regions get a better chance on the coming election but at the cost of shading support from Abiy and his coalition. In addition to tilting the balance in the coming election, our reaction to the information we get from the web may alienate one or more ethnic groups. Some have taken this opportunity to be leaders of “haters” amassing thousands of web followers who share their dwarf ethnic-based ideas. You may have 101 reasons for feeling why you advocate for your ethnic group but it should not be at the expense of making other ethnic groups feel down. We are better than this. We need to realize that putting all the blame on Prime Minister Abiy and his government misses the whole point. The perpetrators do not act in a vacuum. They must have financial and moral supports, and the dramatis personae who are giving these supports have a goal of destabilizing the nation and have the upper hand in determining the future of Ethiopia. We are helping them by alienating one or other ethnic groups and by showing them our lack of love and respect required to bring unity. A more fitting example is a story commonly described as “The wolves Within” or “a Grandfather Tell” which describes simply ideas relevant for our moment. The story goes like this: An old man from one of the indigenous tribes of America wanted to teach his grandson about virtues of life. He told his grandson, “I always feel like a fight is going on inside me and I know that everyone has the same feeling. I have no doubt that you will experience the same feeling when you grow up.” The grandson asked, “what kind of fight”. The Oldman replied, “It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One of the wolves is evil. He is full of anger, envy, sorrow, greed, arrogance, self-pity, lies, false-pride, superiority and ego.” He continued, “the other wolf is good. He is full of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith”. The grandson asked, “how is this fight relevant to my life?”. The old man answered, “how you live your life depends on which of the wolves win”. The grandson asked, “which of the wolves will win?” The Oldman simply replied, “whichever wolf you choose to feed.”
To those who are not familiar with proverbs, perhaps lessons from history will better serve the purpose. Some of you may be aware of the story of Balcha Aba Nefso, one of our premier warriors. As a strong political advocate and supporter of Menelik II, Balcha was unable to support the instalment of Haile Selassie and therefore chose to resign his high post rather than serve him. In a grand party designed to win him over Balcha even went so far as to mock and berate the newly instated emperor. Yet the minute the Italians came to divide the nation among themselves Balcha returned to service and fought to the death in protecting his countrymen, even if it meant resigned himself to the rule of someone he did not agree with. Therefore, as our forefathers have shown, the first consideration in all of our minds should always be the preservation of our country and the sacred nature of its unity. Political disputes are welcome in so far as they do not engage with the idea of disbanding the nation or ethic groups based on any idea of supremacy or illegitimacy. Any person or group, therefore, who advocates for the breaking of our country should not be seen as flag bearers for any particular ethnic group but an enemy of all whose parents and grandparents died to preserve the unified land we call Ethiopia.
I will conclude with a story about the great unifier I mentioned in the introduction. On October 1856, in an effort to win the hearts of all his people king Tewodros famously declared ““if you have a country and a father go back to your country and father; if you don’t have one, I will be your father.” The king never planned on being the father to one political or ethnic group nor did he visualize an Ethiopia which fought within itself about power along ethnic lines. Anybody can love and respect those who are from the same ethnic group or those who share our beliefs and ideas. But this is not the sort of love the king or any of our forefathers had for their land. It is difficult to imagine how Tewodros, who chose to die than sell out his country to outside enemies, would react to our current state of politics. When the enemy is no longer as clear as it was in the days when hatred wore a white face and spoke a different language it has become important that we be vigilant in the preservation of peace. National unity is achievable only with love and respect for others with different ethnicity, religion and political opinions. Beware of voices and texts of deceit. Be mindful of your reactions because in this area of fast information dissemination our knee jerk reaction is consequential. Choose to feed the good wolf and decide to offer messages of love and respect despite the expectation of trolls otherwise.