By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Author’s Note: I have written this commentary as a wake-up call to diaspora Ethiopians, particularly those in the United States. Fundamental and structural changes are taking place in Ethiopia. Ethnic apartheid is taking its last gasps of air. The masters of ethnic apartheid are living out their last days in the Ninth Circle of Hell. No doubt, they shall continue to toil in darkness to spread their gospel of hate and division.
Henry David Thoreau correctly observed, “Things do not change; we change.” I am afraid most of us in the Ethiopian diaspora, especially in the United States, are not changing with the change. We are watching the change in Ethiopia on the sidelines fretting, anxious, perplexed and paralyzed from taking action. Indeed, many of us are numbed to the change a few turned comatose. Some of us are sleepwalking through the change. The rest of us refuse to change our ethnic-colored eyeglass lenses which turn roses into corpse flowers.
The change that is taking place in Ethiopia will continue with or without us. We have a choice of being part of the change – a dynamic and synergistic element – or opt out and be left behind. I have often remarked using the old maxim, Ethiopians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” We have a great opportunity to become part of the change and help our long-suffering people.
But we have a more compelling reason to be on the side of change: Enlightened self-interest as diaspora Ethiopians! If we miss this opportunity, if we don’t wake up and smell the coffee, we shall surely end up being roommates with the TPLF in the dust bin of history!
Diaspora Ethiopians gotta wake up and know what time it is in Ethiopia!
In July 2006, I gave a speech entitled, “AWAKENING GIANT: Can Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans Living in America Make a Difference in their Homeland?”
I answered my own question in the affirmative.
I argued diaspora Ethiopians in America are like a sleeping giant, a powerful and irresistible political force that has not realized its potential to effect positive change in Ethiopia.
To wake up meant to purge and cleanse ourselves of the poison of ethnic hatred that has paralyzed, incapacitated and put us to sleep for so long.
Over the past nineteen months, the leaders who are spearheading the massive campaign to change hearts and minds in Ethiopia have been doing their level best to purge the toxin of ethnic hatred coursing in the Ethiopian body politic.
They are working day and night to turn the long night of TPLF oppression, hate and division into a new dawn of forgiveness, reconciliation and national unity.
Unfortunately, by and large, those of us in the Ethiopian diaspora seem to have turned catatonic or are sleepwalking right through the change.
Most of us today are sitting on our duffs, twiddling our thumbs, scratching our heads and periodically sticking our index fingers into the air to feel which way the wind of change is blowing.
Far too many of us in the Ethiopian diaspora have become like the “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.”
The fact of the matter is that there are mighty winds of change sweeping over Ethiopia today.
They are tornadic winds of freedom, democracy and rule of law clearing out the accumulated garbage of the ethnic politics accumulated over the past 27 years.
The answer to our long standing questions are blowing in the winds of change blowing over Ethiopia today.
Just like Bob Dylan’s sang it.
How many years must some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
And how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see – the answer
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
The answer, my diaspora Ethiopian friends, is blowing the gusting winds of change in Ethiopia!
The time for change is not, not in years to come.
The time is right for change and wrong to turn our heads from the direction of change.
So, as diaspora Ethiopians, today we face the defining question of their lifetimes: Are we going to catch the wind of change and put it in a bottle to use in airbrushing a new bright future for Ethiopia or will we remain hopeless windbags complaining and gabbing the tired old identity politics until we are blown into the dustbin of history?
What time is it, diaspora Ethiopians?
It is time to catch the wind of change in a bottle and transform it into a tornado of freedom, democracy and rule of law in Ethiopia!
In our time…
For nearly a decade and half, diaspora Ethiopians in the United States have worked tirelessly to dismantle the ethnic apartheid system of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front in Ethiopia.
We have marched the streets and walked the halls of Congress.
We have organized grassroots efforts to hold the TPLF accountable for its gross human rights violations.
We have taken to the houses of faith and civic associations to create allies in our struggle.
We have taken to the newspapers, radio and television stations across the land to spread our message and mobilize Americans to help us fight TPLF tyranny.
We have even petitioned U.S. presidents to intervene and moderate the oppression of the TPLF.
It is true many of us in the diaspora have engaged in street protests, legislative advocacy, social media activism, scholarship and analysis.
We have been somewhat successful in our efforts.
I am proud to say I have played my part in all of these efforts.
But of late, we seem to have lost our sense of vision and mission.
Most diaspora Ethiopian academics, professionals, activists and advocacy communities seem to have developed an over inflated sense of our own self-importance and role in bringing about change in Ethiopia.
Change came to Ethiopia despite the role played by diaspora Ethiopians.
Change came to Ethiopia because Ethiopia’s young people and their young leaders paid for it in their blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices.
The young people and their leaders brought about change by facing TPLF’s live fire every day and by going to jail in large numbers.
The young people brought about change by suffering torture and prison conditions once described as among the absolutely worst in the world.
The young activists and their leaders who guided the nonviolent resistance won the day by outthinking, outsmarting, outplaying, outfoxing and outmaneuvering the mighty TPLF with feet of clay.
They brought about change and ended the entrenched power of the TPLF without firing a single shot.
They are the wunderkinds of political change in all Africa.
The fact of the matter is that “We” diaspora Ethiopians are not the driving force which drove the TPLF ethnic apartheid regime out of power and into the trash heap of history.
But in a feat of incredible fantasy, many of us in the Ethiopian diaspora, particularly in the U.S., have convinced ourselves we are the OWNERS of the change in Ethiopia and we must control the process and pace of change.
Truth be told, we never had skin in the game. We played the change game by remote control online.
The irony of change in the Ethiopian diaspora
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
The irony of change in Ethiopia is that when change came to Ethiopia, diaspora Ethiopians refused to change.
If the change taking place in Ethiopia could be described in a single word, it would be “Peaceful”.
Peaceful change in its essence means those in power and the government do not engage in arbitrary killings, arbitrary arrests, arbitrary detention, arbitrary prosecutions and arbitrary denial of due process of law.
The TPLF committed gross human rights violations in the name of defending the rule of law.
Today, I hear diaspora Ethiopian activists, organizers, academics, professionals, clergymen, community and civic leaders urging the PM Abiy “to take action”.
When I ask them specifically what “action” the PM Abiy or the government should take, they become hopelessly vague. “The government has to do something about one individual or another. The government must stop the lawlessness. The government must do something!”
They are intellectually dishonest to admit what they are asking for is a return to the old days of arbitrary killings, arrests, detentions and so on in the name of law and order.
They want the government of PM Abiy to soak its hands in the blood of innocents in the name of law and order.
That is not change. That is called “insanity, or “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Dr. Martin Luther King taught: “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”
PM Abiy said, “The day the Derg was defeated was when it killed 60 people arbitrarily and without due process of law.” The Derg started with 60 people and ended up killing over 500,000 between 1976-78.
In my view, the TPLF was decisively defeated when Meles Zenawi ordered his troops to massacre hundreds of innocent protesters after the 2005 election. At that moment, the TPLF crossed a point of no return on its way to the dust bin of history.
Real change means an Ethiopia where we “shall beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruninghooks.”
Real change means an Ethiopia where brother shall not lift sword against brother.
Change means an Ethiopia where the young people shall no longer learn the vice of war any more.
When change came to Ethiopia, I changed. Some said literally overnight.
I am proud to say I support the current change and its leaders fully and not because the change is perfect.
I support them because, to be brutally honest, what they have done is nothing short of miraculous.
To give the TPLF their walking papers without a single shot fired is MIRACULOUS!
I always keep an open mind. If someone, anyone, comes with a better idea for change than what we have today, I will jump to it.
The fact of the matter, which we all know but do not have the intellectual courage to admit, is that today we have one and only one choice. PM Abiy Ahmed and his leadership team.
I challenge anyone, anywhere to name anyone one-half Abiy Ahmed’s caliber to lead Ethiopia today.
Ethiopia has a gift in Abiy Ahmed, though for some that gift may be a gift of pearl before swine.
In June 2013, I prophesied:
Ethiopia’s Cheetahs will rise and shine and soar to new heights. They will lift up and carry Ethiopia on their wings… Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation is the only generation that could rescue Ethiopia from the steel claws of tyranny and dictatorship. It is the only generation that can deliver Ethiopia from the fangs of a benighted dictatorship and transform a decaying and decomposing garrison state built on a foundation of lies into one that is deeply rooted in the consent and sovereignty of the people.
That prophesy has come to pass.
That is why change was not very difficult for me.
I changed literally overnight from being the unrelenting critic of the TPLF regime to the unapologetic supporter of PM Abiy and his government.
I respect fully those who do not support PM Abiy and his administration. It is their democratic right.
To oppose something is easy, but to propose something better is exceedingly hard!
I support PM Abiy and the change he is leading because I share his vision of an Ethiopia at peace with itself and it neighbors.
I had long told the TPLF that I will change from being their relentless critic to their number one supporter if they changed their evil ways.
No arbitrary killing. No arbitrary jailing. No arbitrary denial of due process. No, absolutely no, torture.
Over a decade ago, I thought there was the possibility of redemption for the TPLF.
But to no avail because evil is coded in the TPLF’s DNA.
Many of us in the Ethiopian diaspora suffer from metathesiophobia (morbid fear of change).
The supreme irony in diaspora Ethiopian politics is that many of those who worked to bring about change – from TPLF dictatorship to democracy, from TPLF ethnic division and ethnic apartheid to national unity – changed their minds when change came and became reactionaries against change.
Many of us in the Ethiopian diaspora became the caricature of the proverbial man who wanted to harvest crops without ploughing the ground but covets and seek to lavishly feast on the harvest produced by the sweat of his neighbor.
Diaspora Ethiopians, particularly those in the U.S., talk about change but most of us are clueless about the kind of change they want.
We want change but we do not want to do our fair share in the heavy lifting to bring it about.
We want change and believe we can bring it by criticizing and belittling those who are doing the heavy lifting implementing change.
We want to change Ethiopia but we do not want to change ourselves. We do not understand “those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
We want change but we do not want to be the change we want to see.
We want to change but we are trapped in herd mentality and groupthink.
We want change but only on our terms: “Our way of change or the highway. Take our change or leave it.”
We want change but we have nothing to offer to bring about change. We have no coherent ideas, no blueprint and no plans to offer.
Diaspora Ethiopians, particularly those in the U.S., think we can bring about change in Ethiopia by complaining, moaning, groaning and preaching victimology.
We think we can bring about change in Ethiopia by posting and disseminating fake news, fake stories, lies and disinformation on Fakebook, YouBoob and Twit-ter.
We think we can bring about change in Ethiopia gathering in front of public building and frothing at the mouth shouting slogans.
We think we can bring about change in Ethiopia by collecting donations on GoFundMe to line our pockets.
We think we can bring about change in Ethiopia by wishing upon a star: “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder change could suddenly fall from the sky.”
We think we can bring change by trash-talking Ethiopia. “Ethiopia is a failed state. Ethiopia is a civil war waiting to happen.”
We think we can bring about change in Ethiopia by finger-pointing, bellyaching, teeth-gnashing and heart-aching.
We don’t seem to realize “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle”.
Above all, we don’t seem to understand change is a labor of love and a trans-generational legacy– love of humanity, love of hum-unity (unity of humanity) love of dignity, love of liberty and and love of duty to do the common good and the generations to come.
To be not to be part of the march to freedom and democracy.
To be or not to be part of the march for freedom and democracy is the Shakespearean question Diaspora Ethiopians must face and answer as Ethiopia undergoes tectonic transformation.
The foundations of the ethnic apartheid state established by the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in 1991 are in tatters now. They are being dismantled piece by piece.
The TPLF spent hundreds of millions of birr to stop the changes in their tracks and if that is not possible plunge the country into civil war.
There is nothing the TPLF can do to stop the change and get back in the saddle of power to complete their vaunted 100-year rule.
Long ago, I prophesied the TPLF is destined for the dustbin of history if they continued in their evil ways and in the end will inherit the wind.
That prophesy has come to pass!
In May 2009, I wrote a commentary and detailed the “psychologic of the T-TPLF’s paranoia” of being pushed out of power and prophesied how the TPLF regime would end:
They [T-TPLF] have been riding the Ethiopian tiger for nearly two decades. But one day they know they have to dismount. When they do, they will be looking at the sparkling eyes, gleaming teeth and pointy nails of one big hungry tiger!”
In my March 2015 commentary, I told the TPLF they are looking at their end days.
I believe the T-TPLF leaders know with absolute certainty that they are sitting on a powder keg. As I have written previously, the T-TPLF has built its castles in the sand. The only question is whether those castles will be swept up by a tidal wave of deep public discontent or blown away by the tornadic wind of the people’s fury. In either case, the T-TPLF will be vacuumed and deposited in the dust bin of history. I am afraid the volcano that has remained dormant for the last 25 years is “growling” and “grumbling” and the T-TPLF has come to the ultimate realization that it is sitting on the cryptodome of the volcano. The heat and pressure are increasing inside the Ethiopian volcano as the T-TPLF ramps up its oppression, repression, and brutality. I am afraid the T-TPLF is now looking straight into the eyes of the tiger. Behold the eye of the tiger!
By 2016, the TPLF came face to face with the hungry tiger. Actually, the TPLF Hippos came face to face with the angry Ethiopian Cheetahs.
The cryptodome of the Ethiopia youth volcano had blown over and a tidal wave of hot magma was oozing out to consume the TPLF.
The Cheetahs peacefully subdued the TPLF Hippos and let them go in peace.
But the TPLF Hippos thought the peaceful gesture was a sign of weakness and continued with their evil ways setting ethnic fires throughout the country.
The changes have been the equivalent of a volcanic earthquake with endless aftershocks.
The first full-fledged eruption took place in 2016 and shook the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front to the core.
Today, as Prosperity Party announced its official establishment, the TPLF is finally interred under the volcanic magma that began flowing in 2016.
Ethiopian diaspora never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity
I hate to say it. Really.
But as a man who prides himself for speaking truth to power, I can’t help it.
The truth is diaspora Ethiopians and the TPLF appear to be doomed to share the same destiny.
Both seem to be destined to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The TPLF shapeshifters today wallow in a twilight zone of delusion, illusion and fantasy.
They are confused, perplexed and simply stumped.
They don’t know if they are coming or going.
They change like the weather in Chicago.
One day the TPLF leaders say they are out of the game. They will establish a de facto state.
Another day, they say they are neither in nor out of the game because they have not read the party program and their statement that they are out of the game is “based principle”.
The following week they intimate they will secede and create their own country. They have discovered oil reserves and such. They can be self-sufficient.
Then they say, they might join but they need time to think about it.
The TPLF reminds me of Schrödinger’s cat. They are both dead and alive at the same time.
The fact of the matter is the Prosperity Train has left the station as the TPLF watched in total confusion and discombobulation. Choo, choo!!! (Or as the old song from my day of youth goes, “Elem ale baburoo, wetat yizo bemulu. “The train left the station filled with young people.”)
The old men of the TPLF are watching the Prosperity Party maglev train zipping away.
Here we are the grand old men and women of the Ethiopian diaspora in the good ole U.S. of A.!
We, diaspora Ethiopians, are also standing on the platform of the proverbial train station listening/singing that New Shining’s song:
Too many questions remain unsolved and I wonder why
God knows I’m in desperate need of some kind of clarity
But I just can’t make up my mind
But I just can’t make up my mind
The TPLF just can’t make up its mind.
Neither can the Ethiopian diaspora in America!
Truth be told, whether the TPLF makes up its mind is a matter of mind over matter for me.
I don’t mind because the TPLF does not matter to me, except when it comes to exposing their crimes against humanity, the cruelty of their politics of identity and the poison they used to pollute Ethiopian unity.
Diaspora Ethiopians do matter to me and I mind the fact they can’t make up their mind
I am afraid diaspora Ethiopians are heading in the same dead-end direction of the TPLF.
The so-called diaspora intellectuals, activists, advocates and the rest can’t seem to make up their minds about the change taking place in Ethiopia.
Some of them belittle and contemptuously dismiss the change and heap insults and denigration on the change leaders.
The brainless tsetse flies of social media spread lies and damned lies about the change and leadership of the change on Ethiopia.
The silent majority of the Ethiopian diaspora is silent as the (brain) dead. They are sleepwalking through the change.
The silent click-bait majority is silently asleep dreaming nightmares from all the fake horror stories they gather on social media and online.
They too, like the TPLF, are standing on the station platform as the train is leaving the station.
Let’s own a piece of the change…
I have one and only one set of concerns about the role of diaspora Ethiopia in the ongoing change in Ethiopia.
I don’t want diaspora Ethiopians to be left at the train station or the dock looking at the ugly faces of the TPLF.
I want diaspora Ethiopians to be on the Change Train.
The TPLF had many opportunities to act in their enlightened self-interest but rejected it.
But it is the fate of the TPLF to never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
They kicked the opportunity to enjoy their stolen wealth in the spirit of national unity and peace.
The TPLF today is in the dust bin of history. Nobody gives a damn!
As diasporans, our motto must be “seize the day (carpe diem)”.
Above all, we as diaspora Ethiopians must act in our enlightened self-interest.
We must not follow in the footsteps of the TPLF and walk straight to the dust bin of history.
We MUST realize that the change will continue with or without us.
We have the choice of standing in front of the freight train called “Change” or get aboard and ride it.
There are some things in this world that simply cannot be stopped, no matter how hard we try or cry.
Such is the change in Ethiopia today.
We cannot stop the change. We cannot delay the change. We cannot wish it away.
We can either be part of the change or by not being part condemn ourselves to the dust bin of history just like the TPLF.
In the interest of the enlightened self-interest of diaspora Ethiopians: Why I am so concerned about a role in the change taking place in Ethiopia
As I see the pace and direction of change in Ethiopia, I see two options for diaspora Ethiopians.
We can continue our old and outmoded opposition politics and attain irrelevance in the dustbin of history.
Or we can pursue our enlightened self-interest unapologetically.
I am not apologetic in articulating the interests of diaspora Ethiopians in Ethiopia.
We must make sure our voices are heard and considered by whomever the powers that be in Ethiopia.
Of course, as diasporans we share a lot with our Ethiopian brothers and sisters.
But truth be told, as diasporans we have special concerns and needs.
I want to make sure we are given our rightful place in the coming order.
There are many things that most diaspora Ethiopians seek in the New Ethiopia.
For instance, the vast majority of diaspora Ethiopians who had been forced by the Derg and TPLF to give up their citizenship, want dual citizenship.
That is the one question I am asked most often when I travel to speak to diaspora groups in the U.S. and Canada.
But there are many issues of special interests for diaspora Ethiopians. This is what they tell me:
We want to go back to their motherland and no be seen as foreigners or be identified by the label “diasporan”.
We want our children to become citizens and take pride in their ancestral heritage.
We want to participate in the political process of our motherland. We want to vote, run for office, influence decisions and shape policy. We don’t want to be treated like ferenjis.”
We want to work in our motherland without needing a work permit or visa.
We want to be guaranteed residence and own property just like everybody else. We don’t want to be discriminated because we are diasporans.
We want to invest but do not want to be treated like other foreigners because of our other nationality.
Ethiopia is an emerging market transitioning from dictatorship to democracy. The middle class is expanding and standards of living are improving. We want to play a central role in the country’s development.
We want to launch Ethiopian diaspora-led businesses and enterprises to create jobs and spur economic growth.
We want to promote development through diaspora entrepreneurship using technology and innovation.
When H.E. Prime Minster Dr. Abiy Ahmed visited the U.S. in July 2018, he challenged diaspora Ethiopians to tender their proposals for dual citizenship. To my knowledge, no individual or group has taken the challenge and present such a proposal.
But to have a voice and a role, we have to do our part and support the change.
We cannot get something for nothing.
Only beggars expect something for nothing.
PM Abiy once zinged us with a particularly sharp comment. “Diaspora Ethiopians ask me 10 question at once but are not willing to give a dollar (a day to the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund.”
The late uber boss of the TPLF once said, “Diasporans (Ethiopians) can start something but they never finish anything.”
Many of us in the Ethiopian diaspora have become the hollow men (and women) in T.S. Eliot’s eponymous poem:
We are the hollow men/ We are the stuffed men
Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when/ We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
Our dried voices crying out in America today are quiet and meaningless.
We blow a lot of smoke but there is little fire left in us.
If we don’t like the change that is taking place, let’s challenge the government with better ideas. Let us give them better alternatives.
Let’s accept PM Abiy’s challenge and win against his party in the marketplace of ideas.
There is an election coming up in May 2020.
It will be free and fair and under the eyes of international observers.
The government to be elected in that election will have a public mandate to transition the country to multiparty democracy and ensure equality and justice for all.
In my view, whatever government is elected, there will be no return to the ethnic apartheid party system in Ethiopia.
Divisive ethnic politics will play a much-diminished role.
Ethiopia will join the rest of civilized countries where leaders are chosen in free and fair elections.
Only agreements and disagreements on political programs, ideology and philosophy. No violence.
A word to the wise diaspora Ethiopians: When in America, live and learn from the Americans
I doubt many diaspora Ethiopians in the U.S. are familiar with the Alexis de Tocqueville’s seminal work, “Democracy in America” (1835).
In that book, de Tocqueville discussed Americans’ natural tendency to come together voluntarily in “enlightened self-interest” to advance their own individual self-interests by promoting the interests of their group. He wrote:
The Americans are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist each other, and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state.
Enlightened self-interest is the hallmark of American political and social life.
As Ethiopian Americans, we should work in our enlightened self-interest and help in Ethiopia’s transition to democracy, progress and prosperity.
It is in our enlightened self-interest to see a free, democratic and just Ethiopia.
Let’s face facts.
The days of protesting in front of the U.S. State Department are over. Only the granite slabs will listen to us stone cold deaf.
We can walk the halls of Congress until our shoe soles run holes. But no one is listening over there.
I have a simple message my fellow diaspora Ethiopians, particularly in the U.S.: “Make up your mind and your heart to accept and become part of the change in Ethiopia and swing with it.
The alternative you do not want to even contemplate but it is sure to happen just like the sun will rise tomorrow:
Prepare to join the TPLF in the dustbin of history.
Wake and and smell the original Ethiopian coffee diaspora Ethiopians!
Let’s not repeat our history. Let’s miss this ONE opportunity to miss an opportunity!