Another Way Forward for Ethiopia? Time for New Tactics and New Attitudes
Cast your mind back over what may feel like the longest year-and-a-half of your life (sure as hell feels that way to me). Back, back, way back just before this war began. Do you know what made the news about Ethiopia? Let me refresh your memory. Here’s The Guardian for—yep, check the date—November 2, 2020:
“Survivors of the massacre counted 54 bodies in a schoolyard in the village of Gawa Qanqa, which was targeted late on Sunday by suspected members of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Most of the victims were women and children and elderly people, according to survivors who hid in nearby forests.”
Wollega. And where are we now? With a body count of—last time I checked—estimated at around 1,500 for that recent massacre. In Wollega. Again. And now reports are coming in today of new attacks by the OLF-Shene.
Much has changed since 2020, and yet when it comes down to it, the horrors visited upon innocent Amhara have not diminished. They have multiplied and grown even more terrifyingly gruesome and beyond bestial. Add to this that while the TPLF’s war has largely eclipsed their plight, the Amhara were nevertheless their constant and regular target for attack. Then the ethno-fascists slaughtered and looted their way through Afar, proving yet again—as if humanity needed another historical reminder—that if you can dehumanize one people, you can dehumanize anyone.
And what has the outside world learned? Absolutely. Nothing.
Because as examples of recent history amply demonstrate, the EU and U.S. see war as a constant in Africa, and it’s a case of Let’s just pick the side we like. If we keep the blood flowing, no one will notice how we pressure them for unequal deals for their natural resources, or how we keep millions of Black people bottled up on one continent, denying them travel visas or refugee status (for those who doubt the deliberate visa restrictions, I explore this issue in my new book, The Gifts of Africa).
“God help us if the poor bastards ever figure out how they’re sitting on the greatest storage of food and groceries in the world.”
And again, if you cast your mind back, the vast online TPLF troll army—before they gave up the masquerade—first tried to sell the world that there was an “anti-war” movement within the Tigrayan diaspora. Their ploy was that the war was foisted upon Tigray by the federal government, and the Western media lapped this up, never bothering to check what was said in English versus what was said in Tigrinya.
This nonsense died a hard death when the TPLF chose to not only try (and fail) to capture the main supply road from Djibouti but came about 200 miles away from Addis itself. You remember? Right before they got their asses kicked back to Mekelle.
It hardly says you “simply want regional autonomy” while you invade a good swath of the rest of the nation, vandalizing and looting hospitals, universities, and museums along the way.
For a long while, I have wondered… What if Ethiopia had a sincere peace movement? What would that look like?
I’ll come back to that in a while. This will be a long one, kids, so strap in. I need to jump to different points to bring it all together, but I promise I’m going somewhere with it. It will be controversial, but that’s the point; certain things need to be said and talked about.
About Abiy and His Government
Months before that 2020 massacre in Wollega, I counted so many massacres and episodes of ethnic violence that I was moved to write a Medium piece with the rallying cry (and a title with unfortunately shoddy grammar), “Ethiopia, Save Yourselves as One People.”
That was two whole years ago. And Ethiopians are still killing each other, with sinister forces at work encouraging the bloodshed.
I didn’t ever want to tell Ethiopians how to unite—how arrogant would that be! There is no lack of ferenji idiots, including ones booted out of the country, who insist on trying to tell Ethiopians what they should do, whether Ethiopians want their advice or not. And what’s particularly slimy—besides their shameless alliance with TPLF advocates—is that they do it in secret… and then lie about it when caught.
Despite how I’ve been depicted in mainstream media outfits from AFP to The Economist, trying to box me in as a “pro-government” commentator, I have never taken an official position on Abiy Ahmed’s administration. And I still won’t. Because my sympathy and loyalty are to Ethiopia, not to who’s sitting in parliament for this year or that year.
But in the current political climate, just repeating the call for people to unite amounts to an empty bromide about as useless as “Let’s all try to love each other.” When we say, “Unite,” we need to have a plan behind it.
I have seen Twitter posts from one-time allies and followers scathingly depict Abiy as the alleged mastermind behind Amhara massacres. And as I’m not there, and none of us has evidence beyond those sharing clips of public statements he made that they don’t like, I honestly don’t know what the hell to think.
My doubts over such allegations are personal and instinctive, and I will tell you a quick story for why I resist believing them.
In what feels like ages ago, I once discussed the idea of interviewing TPLF child soldiers on live television so that Western reporters could see the kids are uncoached and to finally get it through their thick skulls what evil they’re supporting. I talked about this with Nasise Challi Jira, then the ambassador to Canada and now Ethiopia’s Tourism Minister.
And without missing a beat, her first comment was about how to protect the kids’ identities, because at some point, they would want and need to go back to their communities where they could face the stigma of having fought for the TPLF. (And yes, I would have arranged for that anyway, if we had managed to get the segment to happen.)
Now understand: This was a private conversation. Ms. Nasise wasn’t “wearing” her compassion on display to score political points or saying this in some interview. She was talking to some Canadian schmuck, alone and unrecorded. And her first instinct was one of human decency and compassion for others.
The measure of our conscience is not how we behave in public, but whether we act on our ethics when no one is watching.
You may say, Okay, that’s one individual. Well, she is not the only official I have spoken with, either a diplomat or a minister, whom I believe is acting out of personal commitment to keep the nation together.
Does that mean everyone in the administration is? No. It is very clear that just as in the army, there are those within positions of influence at the federal and regional levels who are trying to sink Ethiopia’s democratic experiment. The accusations of complicity are stacking up from organizations such as the National Movement of Amhara and the Amhara Association of America, and there are damning accounts from Wollega itself.
As a diaspora ally put it to me, summing up the anger out there very well, “Killings of Amharas have been going on for a few years now, and the government is incapable of even acknowledging the reality. This is a case of complicity through inaction, at a minimum.”
What I do know personally for sure is that there is a genocide going on. For the love of gawd, I can show you Excel sheets prepared by others, naming victims of the massacres! The word, “genocide,” unfortunately, has been so misused and exploited by the TPLF that it has lost its proper weight and power to alarm.
What I do know as well is that I share the concern of others over mass arrests of Amhara and Ethiopian journalists, who are owed a better explanation than what they’ve been given so far.
More to the point, how about not arresting thousands of the people who so far have been the strongest supporters of a unified federal state?
And I ask: Why the hell didn’t the Speaker of the House in Ethiopia’s parliament do his job and allow for proper discussion on the Wollega massacre we are all grieving over right now?
Why didn’t the Prime Minister go to Wollega himself and meet victims’ families instead of planting trees?
And if you tell me, “Sorry, the area wasn’t secure enough for a visit,” I must point out, respectfully, how is that he went to the war front last year, but a PM of Oromo descent can’t visit a spot in Oromia? What message does that send to the greater population of the country?
These are questions. But I think they are reasonable questions. I have never met the man, and the closest I ever got to him was at a diaspora event in January at Menelik Palace in which I attended as a guest of honor and was invited to speak at the last minute. And afterwards I saw a strange and worrisome thing. One for which there are plenty of other witnesses.
As Abiy left the event, he shook hands with folks, and the crowd surged forward. It didn’t matter the age or gender, they all wanted to touch him, to speak to him, to bask in his close presence. The swarm grew so intense that members of his security detail were body-checking and shoving people back. For the briefest of instants, I had eye contact with the encircled PM, and I could only wonder what was going through his mind.
I rode with some #NoMore activists in a car to get a nightcap at their hotel afterwards, and we all traded notes on this alarming scene. For myself, I didn’t think any of this was Abiy’s fault: the guy is a politician, that’s what politicians do, they want to meet and greet. I’d ask Security what the hell happened. But that mob scene disturbed me profoundly because it revealed just how fragile Ethiopia’s young democracy is.
Because there shouldn’t be cultish hero worship like this. Respect? Of course. Admiration? Fine. But you have a parliament now. The way it’s supposed to work is that if Boris Johnson or Justin Trudeau screws up and goes too far beyond what’s tolerable, you can boot the guy out and government goes on.
No leader is indispensable or irreplaceable. For that matter, no political party is or should expect to be ensconced forever. You take your turn, and when people don’t want you anymore, you go. It is important—indeed vital—that the democratic institutions endure far longer than the individuals.
The problem right now is… What is the alternative to the Prosperity Party? To be fair, it brought the voices of once voiceless regions into parliament. The residents of Gambella, Somali regional state, Afar, and elsewhere were at last properly heard.
So if there needs to be an alternative, it better be one that is competent, because as much as a tsunami of love lifted Abiy to stardom and cheered when he won the Nobel Prize, the wave of backlash—at least among many diaspora—is close to its equal.
I have seen allies who are so furious with Abiy that they “like” posts by analyst-provocateur Cameron Hudson, Mr. “Former CIA” who, if he ever grows a brain, might get a job as a humidor for Rashid Abdi. Even candlelight vigils for the Wollega victims were politicized online. On July 5 two years ago, I wrote about the ethnic violence and lack of unity, “Your enemy is loving this.” And it’s still true.
What’s needed is to bring the light and turn down the heat. Less furtive ferenji scheming and power plays by outside governments and more ideas from people for nation building.
What’s needed is more active usage of the tools of democracy. And to my Ethiopian friends, I say, It’s your democracy. It took so long to get here, literally thousands of years in the making, and if you don’t like what’s going on, use its tools available to you.
Like Abiy? Don’t like Abiy? That’s for you to decide. Vote. Hit the streets to peacefully protest (emphasis on the “peaceful”), and if cops start beating the hell out of you the way the American ones regularly do against protesters, all I can suggest is that you come out in such numbers that they won’t have enough sticks, and your voices are heard across the continent.
There is no partisan “pro” or “anti” government position in this—it’s what democracy is supposed to look like. There is supposed to be a “Loyal Opposition,” one that supports the mechanisms and continuity of governance while holding the incumbent government accountable.
I know there are those out there who genuinely believe that democracy is not innate to certain cultures, especially African ones. I think that’s a notion that’s misguided at the very least and dangerously bigoted at most. Many traditional African cultures, particularly in West Africa, have had assemblies of advisors who could “fire” their kings when they saw fit and bonded them to set obligations.
It is true, however, that disruption, civil war, political upheaval can leave a country out of the “habit” of democratic practice, and Ethiopia has never even had a proper working democracy—until now. The questions of how… and just how far to go… for any opposition are being grappled with as well right in Britain and the U.S. at the same time. So this is not just an “African problem.”
Ethiopia needs that loyal opposition. But there must be more than chants, more than slogans. Your organizers must take clear, well-articulated positions that seek tangible action and require a government response, whether it be a change in policy, legislation, or hell, just the government stepping down and someone new taking over, if that’s what you want.
In other words, democracy in Ethiopia stays alive.
Because the alternative is armed revolution, and you had enough of that with the Derg and then the TPLF.
Ideas, Humbly Offered
These are ideas. Ideas are free. Take ’em, don’t take ’em. Use as you wish. Up to you.
Again, the huge difference between me and William “Fungus” Davison and his sleazy gang is that I neither have the tools, the platform, nor the desire to manipulate public opinion by planting bullshit stories with gullible Western editors, and unlike Fungus, I’m not a white guy who feels perfectly entitled to interfere in a Black nation’s politics, even after that nation kicked his ass out—twice.
I go where I’m invited, and I answer when asked. I was asked months ago by Ethiopian media about the constitution. I finally decided to get off the fence. And so now I feel the need to do it again.
1). Throw Out the Constitution and Start Again
I have enormous respect for the intelligence and political acumen of Attorney General Gedion Timothewos. But I must admit I am confused by his announcement of “fundamental principles” to negotiate with the TPLF for peace. You can easily find online the video in which he states one of those principles is “respect of the constitutional order and constitutionalism.”
What does that mean? Your guess is as good as mine. I would hope for more clarity and specifics, especially since Mr. Gedion is a former university professor and a well-respected constitutional scholar. If anyone has the answer, you’d think it would be him. Please, sir, tell us.
But at the same time, every Ethiopian—except those who want to tear the country apart—knows that the constitution is a cancer on the nation. For as long it remains a legal document, it will keep spreading its poison.
“For me, the root of all evil is the Ethiopian constitution,” declared Asfa-Wossen Asserate on a DW show, pointing out how Ethiopia was unique in having established an ethnic federation in the 1990s. “Ethiopia became the most racist country in the world. We’re the only place in Africa where in our identity cards, you have the word race written on it… The parties were ethnic, our borders were ethnic. And you know, we have seen in the world where you have ethnic borders, ethnic cleansing is not very far away.”
Why then does the Ethiopian government hesitate? I won’t indulge in conspiracy theories, but I can appreciate folks’ frustration. Delays and evasions only aid the very enemy that built this Frankenstein Monster that keeps shambling and destroying Ethiopian lives.
If I’m wrong, I would welcome the Attorney-General’s correction and clarification. But if he means by “constitutional order” that peace talks will follow in accordance with the current constitution, I’m wondering why?
Even if you come to a workable, long-term truce or some arrangement for regional autonomy for Tigray, you will still need to fix the Monster. There is no choice. If you think you can leave it be and ignore it, it will keep causing destruction. If you choose to tinker with it or create a new one after a negotiated settlement, the TPLF will opportunistically seize on your reform effort anyway and claim it as a pretext to start trouble all over again.
Everyone knows and loathes the idea that even having peace talks with the TPLF confers on them a political legitimacy that this band of psychopaths do not deserve (more on that in a moment). But if you must hold your nose and do it, why would you shackle yourself to the Monster that is their legal creation?
Why not act in the best interests of Ethiopians and free them of it, once and for all?
Ultimately, it’s not a constitution that should bind both parties in a subset deal—it should be a treaty special to itself, of value and limits only within the context of this historic situation. It’ll be a peace made with a government, not with a document.
As for that document, please, please get rid of the wretched thing. Slay the Monster, and free your citizens. Start fresh. Develop something in the spirit of the Ethiopian people and their interconnected, collaborative history.
2) King Solomon’s Judgment: Cut the Baby in Half
Let’s be clear. The TPLF are a terrorist group that cannot be trusted. I have seen their destruction myself and interviewed their victims. So have other reporters and respected analysts. The TPLF’s only goals are power and money, nothing else. It’s not the interests of the Tigrayan people, let alone Ethiopians of other ethnicities.
Entering peace talks with them is a sickening thought. I can easily believe that the Abiy government is taking this step only because of the relentless vindictive pressure by the U.S. and EU, and because the PM and his Ministers know Ethiopians are weary of war. They need peace.
But it can’t be peace at any price.
Let us assume—let us hope—that the rumors are not true, and that the government has no plan to bargain away Welkait through some ridiculous referendum. Abiy should know if he did this, not only would his name go down with those of other infamous appeasers in history such as Neville Chamberlain and Pierre Laval, but there would be open, angry revolt, and his government would fall.
Welkait is the red line that can’t be crossed. Jan Nyssen and his buddies can do their farcical “discovery” of European maps all they like, but Ethiopians don’t give a damn what Western advocates for TPLF have to say, nor do I, since I can point to the map made by the UK Stationary Office from the official British history of the 1941 Liberation. I’m still waiting for these advocates to talk their way out of that one.
Besides, the last word on Ethiopian geography belongs to Ethiopians, not any European.
The TPLF cannot have Welkait. Ever. Or Telemt or Humera or any other clod of Earth west of the Tekeze River. Besides the complete betrayal of the residents there, this would send a signal to the TPLF that they can demand and take more.
Appeasing evil never works. We are not dealing with reasonable people here. As Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald tweeted recently, “We are all desperate to see peace come to this wonderful country we all love. The challenge is that the TPLF leaders’ strategic interests/objectives—unlike the people’s objectives—are incompatible with a lasting peace. Negotiations only work if ‘big picture’ outlooks are similar.”
And they’re clearly not. Any peace talks with the TPLF simply can’t be with people under criminal investigation, those led a mission that slaughtered thousands. The backbone of democracy is rule of law, and that has to be respected and preserved.
So, you want to talk? Send your mid-senior figures who aren’t being investigated for murder and war crimes.
In fact, the idea was once floated that as the top leaders—Debretsion, Getachew Reda, et. al.—are mass murderers who cannot be legitimized by the state in any negotiating process, the offer should be made to them to go into exile. Basically: “You can keep your money, just go.” And the Ethiopian government could deal with the more sensible moderates.
Months ago, I thought this was a brilliant strategy. But I don’t think it goes far enough anymore because Ethiopia is caught in a no-win scenario.
If it grants regional autonomy, perhaps something like what Kurdistan enjoys with Iraq, the TPLF can bide its time, create more mischief with Sudan and Egypt, and invade once again. We can almost guarantee it will. They are already acting in bad faith. There are reports that incidents aimed at provocation are already going on in spots like Sekota and Kobo.
In the meantime, the TPLF will go on playing the victim with the U.S., EU, and UN, bleeding the Ethiopian state dry as it cries, “More aid!” And depriving some of their communities of aid to support their cry of “Famine!”
Even though we have video and other proof that the aid is getting through. Even though we know TPLF leadership is hoarding aid and fuel and denying it from the most vulnerable Tigrayans.
In other words, to ordinarily negotiate with the Junta means dooming thousands to continued poverty, potential starvation, and forced recruitment.
But waiting for a military victory isn’t a feasible option either. Not because the ENDF can’t win, but what comes afterwards, of which we’ve already had a dress rehearsal. I reported myself on how the TPLF—with UN staff complicity—did all it could to undermine the interim government’s efforts to get the region back on its feet. It sabotaged national exams with UN help, and the UN bullied Ethiopian staff to skew numbers and information.
So what are we left with? Here is an idea—at the very least, a springboard intended for further discussion and maybe better conceptual frameworks. How about this?
Have Tigray be governed by both the Ethiopian government and TPLF in a joint administration for a period of no less than three years.
Consider that left on its own, the TPLF has brutalized Tigrayans so much that, as I predicted months ago, stories of their human rights horrors have inevitably been reported by their former gullible Western reporter allies, even by their long-time propagandist Lucy Kassa. And Tigrayans are fleeing the region in droves.
The point is that the TPLF can’t be trusted to take care of its own people. But it sure is skilled at blaming others for its crimes.
So let’s call Debretsion and Getachew’s bluff.
If they really care about Tigrayans, they will allow joint governorship in which federal and regional administrators will need to work cooperatively and not against each other. A system could be designed for checks and balances, as well as protective security details for the officials of both sides. The point is that it would now be in the TPLF’s interest not to fail or sabotage the joint enterprise.
Because at the end of the three-year road would be a free and fair referendum—one with international monitors invited to observe the process—on staying within the Ethiopia fold or secession.
For those who think this means leaning back on the current constitution, I say not at all. And I can point to my own country’s experience with referendums. We had political violence; we had a terrorist group trying to rip Quebec away from the rest of the nation. The big difference, of course, was that the pro-sovereignty party elected in Quebec was not allied in any way with terrorist radicals, but where I’m really going with this is that a referendum in 1980 for “stay or leave” happened virtually outside the constitutional framework. That’s because at the time, Canada didn’t have just one, single constitutional document. All our paperwork for that was pretty much gathering dust in desk drawers and filing cabinets in London until Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre—then PM—negotiated “bringing the constitution home” to Canada.
You can even explore a concept in governance known as “asymmetric federalism,” which has also worked reasonably well in Canada. Again, to use the Quebec example, it has different labor laws and pension laws than other provinces in the country.
So, again, Ethiopia needs urgently to reconceive its own constitution. But whether it does this now or later (better now), three years would give Tigrayans in the region a chance to evaluate for themselves for the very first time in history how they like to be governed and who should be running their show.
No more Susan Rice-let’s-all-have-a-laugh, 99 percent turnout for the TPLF. Others would be watching. No more extortion over food or joining the ranks of their army. Ethiopia media, not just Western media, would have access. Both federal and TPLF conduct would be on trial by voters.
As I recommended ages ago, a humanitarian corridor needs to be opened up and carefully patrolled so that Tigrayans wishing to flee TPLF rule can do so. These are Ethiopians who have every right to live elsewhere if they want, not where a terrorist organization tells them to in order to exploit them.
I expect the TPLF will hate these ideas. Because they screw with their strategy of “We win the PR front no matter what we do!” Too bad. The Ethiopian government should insist on these.
The alternative is a military stalemate that drags on for years. Or the TPLF could roll the dice—with others’ lives as they always do—and possibly lose everything.
For once, they would truly have to answer to the people, whereas even when they held Tigray after the ENDF was pushed out, they turned it into a North Korea with Western media collaborators still singing their tunes.
Under a jointly run administration, there could hopefully be proper transparency with governing.
Some will be quick to suggest that the UN be involved, or that this scheme paves the way for a peacekeeping force that would inevitably show favoritism to the TPLF.
As I imagine this scenario, the UN would not be allowed at all. Their past complicity stinks to high heaven, and frankly, I believe a new arrangement needs to be worked out for their convoys to be stopped right at the border with Afar region, with aid unloaded there under joint monitoring, so that no trucks can be diverted and stolen ever again.
And there is another, much higher reason to keep the UN out of this experiment of governorship. Besides its appalling corruption, its proven complicity and documented intimidation and reprisal against whistle-blowers, along with the infamous past incidents of UN troops sexually assaulting ordinary citizens in postings, if you put aside all of that, consider:
Africa must prove once and for all that it can sort out its own affairs for itself. Especially as the U.S., EU and UN seem determined to “solve” Ethiopia, whether Ethiopians want them to or not. If sovereignty of a nation is to mean anything, it means a people’s right to address their internal affairs according to their choices, not to outside influences.
Africans are long past the time when they should have to earn the West’s respect, and yet the West still doesn’t extend it. The only way Ethiopia can get that respect is to insist on its own autonomy.
Let’s at least talk about this idea. Because there’s far more to it than I can go into here. Let’s discuss it, refine it, build on it. Let Ethiopians develop it and see if it might work. Which brings us to—
3) The People Be Truly Heard.
The scheme above is designed to hand power back to Tigrayans in the region, not to the TPLF. Instead of the infamous “One in Five” that has made Ethiopians’ lives a misery—an existence of surveillance and paranoia—there is a chance here to flip the script. If the TPLF’s existence needs to be tolerated, it must evolve into an entity that is forced to care for the people’s wellbeing. Instead of the people being watched, now the people would become the watchers.
And so we come full circle back to my question at the beginning: What if Ethiopia had a sincere peace movement?
I admire what the #NoMore movement tried to do. Riding along in Dessie or all the way out in Semera, I would see #NoMore bumper stickers and posters. The phenomenon was international, and it was an amazing achievement, truly inspiring to watch what Nebiyu Asfaw, Simon Tesfemariam, Hermela Aregawi, and other unsung heroes created. Like the “Defund” movement in the U.S., they built their initiative so that it could grow organically, and others could take the ball and run with it.
But I think even the founders would acknowledge that the momentum has now slowed, which is certainly not their fault. The core idea of #NoMore was to say, “No More Western interference, No More biased Western reporting.” Instead of taking a hard look at its own conduct in Africa, the Western mainstream media doubled down and did all it could to misrepresent and sink the campaign.
Certain Western analysts have gone out of their way to slander it as a “pro-government” venture when it is nothing of the kind, and the accusation is absurd. I know this because I worked with at least two of its key activists who are old friends yet would argue and debate with each other over Abiy. Much worse was Twitter brazenly censoring two of the founders, Nebiyu and Simon, banishing them from its platform.
The inherent dilemma for such movements—indeed for all of us whether in the diaspora community or ferenji allies—is that everything we do is reactive, and we’re still looking for the Ethiopian government to lead. Up to this point, this was as it had to be. We stood for Ethiopia, and this was its elected government.
But one of the worst kept secrets of this war has been its ongoing disaster in terms of Communications, which is no intended slight on the brilliant and overworked Billene Aster Seyoum. For reasons that remain mysterious, the government has never got its act together—except on rare occasions—for putting forward Ethiopia’s perspective. And now it has dangerously, perilously come close to losing even the confidence of much of its diaspora allies abroad, let alone the citizens it serves.
Fortunately, democracy allows for this.
I submit that it is time for a new grass-roots movement to grow within Ethiopia, led by new young voices who want to live in a nation of tolerance, where each person is respected for who they are as individuals, not because of a label of ethnicity.
I have studied a good chunk of Ethiopian history, and while the country has had its great philosophers, economists, warriors, I haven’t yet found a close equivalent of a Gandhi. I suppose you could bring up the inspirational examples of say, Walatta Petros or maybe of Abune Petros during the Italian Occupation, but that’s a whole other discussion for historians. We’d also wind up quibbling over scale, tactics, etc. and historical comparisons, and on and on. The point is—
Maybe it’s time for an Ethiopian Gandhi. Ethiopia’s own Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or Wangari Maathai to step forward. Yes, Ethiopia has activists, and some have paid for their consciences with prison terms, so you might make a case for one of those individuals. But whoever you have in mind, you’ll also need an activist with ideas that can evolve into policies, an activist who can lead the way to possibly govern. Or to inspire politicians in parliament. All paths lead back to helping a conceptual “loyal opposition” and the government, to preserving democracy.
And what if tens of thousands of Ethiopians—no one identifying themselves as Amhara, Tigrayan, Oromo, Afar, Gurage, etc., just Ethiopians—came from all over and gathered in Gimbi or Nekemte and made a peaceful march to the capital? A march for tolerance and a NEW CONSTITUTION.
Some might find this idea insane, if not ridiculous. It’s war. We just saw 1,500 people get massacred in Oromia. And even as I write this, the reports are coming in of new attacks.
I would counter that the Freedom Riders who went into the American South in the 1960s headed into a war zone and risked their lives in almost equal peril. And their enemies were white who could easily pick them out. As I suggested above, no Ethiopian marching would have to let it be known what they are ethnically—and that’s part of the point.
And you may say, “Hey, Jeff, people have lives. They have jobs. They have herds to tend, families to take care, etc.” To which I can only answer, Do you think those who participated in the Salt March to the sea with Gandhi had any fewer commitments? Yes, different country, different times, but India is a nation with multiple ethnicities, and they managed to pull it off. Together. In unity.
You may also say, “How cute. White boy is suggesting thousands of Ethiopians put themselves out there like a target for the OLF.”
My counter to this is that granted a visa and if I can raise the funds, I will march with you. Right in your ranks. I will share your risks. Every step of the way.
I went into war zones last August and last December/January. I will not pretend that the danger or risks on those occasions were more than what I am suggesting now, but I can at least point to a modest example where I was invited in by others, I made and kept a commitment, and I tried to help.
Consider that last year, there was a rally in Addis in which Ethiopians came out to say, “No More!” The Western media did its best to spin that, too, but once again in their race to distort the genuine feelings of pride and defiance that ordinary citizens felt, they missed the whole damn point.
The true power has always resided with the people. Given that this idea has nothing to do with the government, indeed would take in government critics, both mild and bitter, that it would mean legions of ordinary Ethiopians marching their way to Addis all in the name of peace and tolerance and a new constitution, it would be interesting to see how the Western reporters spin that one. I’m sure they’ll figure out something.
And it won’t matter. Because it would mark a turning point for a movement from the people to determine their own future. March together. No more categories, no more ethnic labels. Ethiopians, one and all.
I wrote years ago in a book, and I’ve written it several times since in articles and online posts: Resist, Endure, Prevail.
The time has come to develop a working plan for not just peace but true democracy. Then we can add to that call: UNITE.