By Al Mariam
As I have demonstrated in my last three commentaries, I am a very strong supporter of PM Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia today has an extraordinary young leader who is inviting, begging and pleading with Ethiopians to return to their homeland and participate and help transform their country.
For nearly thirteen years, I yearned to see such a young leader to come out of Ethiopia’s Cheetah (young) Generation and proclaim that Ethiopia is ONE and an indivisible nation and promise to fulfill Mandela’s promise in Ethiopia: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”
I remember the not-so-good old days when elaborate war plans were drawn to neutralize “Diaspora extremists” and propagandize the rest.
In his inaugural speech, PM Abiy reached out to Ethiopians in the Diaspora and assured them that they will be accepted “with open arms” when they return home. He invited them to bring their knowledge, resources and experiences and help develop the country. He urged there should be true reconciliation between Ethiopians in the Diaspora and those at home.
In the four weeks or so PM Abiy has been in office, he made several gestures for peace, reconciliation and inclusion of Diaspora Ethiopians in shaping the future of their country.
I applaud him for his gestures of reconciliation and inclusion because I believe it is time to “beat [our] swords into plowshares, and [our] spears into pruning-hooks; [Ethiopians] shall not lift up sword against [Ethiopians], neither shall they learn war any more”.
I regret to say many of us in the Diaspora have not publicly responded in kind. Many Diasporans show genuine appreciation for PM Abiy’s efforts and aspirations. There has been polite silence among some. A group of hardcore naysayers badmouth him every chance they get. Few have been willing to stand up and give him full support.
Of course, it is easy for me to show him my full support. As I have no political ambitions, I speak my mind freely and speak my truth to power or anyone who cares to listen.
But I do not support PM Abiy blindly. I believe I have shown over the past nearly thirteen years how hypercritical and censorious I can be. I don’t believe anyone can prove my past hypercriticism was unsupported by evidence.
I like Abiy Ahmed because he is exactly the Ethiopian Cheetah I have been waiting for all these years. He is not perfect. He is young and has much to learn. He faces unimaginable challenges and problems. It is a tough job being PM in a country like Ethiopia, but somebody has got to do it. In my view, there no better person to do it than Abiy at this time.
PM Abiy and the forces of the Dark Side
The invisible forces of the Dark Side are out for PM Abiy with their long knives. They are in the parliament. In the bureaucracy. In the security services. In the military. In the business community. They are even hiding in the Diaspora behind the cyber wall of the world wide web. They are everywhere just waiting to ambush PM Abiy.
But the forces of the Dark Side will never defeat the forces of the Light Side, that is The Force.
To me, character in a political leader is more important than political sophistication or savvy. George Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
PM Abiy speaks my language. Truth is my language. He says what he means and means what he says. He says never will Ethiopia be ruled by force of arms or the domination of one ethnic group by another. He says true power comes from the people and if his administration is incapable of doing the job, the people could fire him and get someone who could serve them better. He says his government is rife with corruption and he will root out corruption, although he acknowledges that is easier said than done. Cancer is to the human body as corruption is to a nation. Curing corruption is the same as curing cancer. No one has yet found a cure for cancer or corruption.
The people love PM Abiy. In the town hall meetings, they talk to him not like a high official but as their native son. He tells them that he will make mistakes like everyone, and when he does he expects the people to deal with him in a parental role — a little qunticha to get him back on the right track. So, if the people of Ethiopia say Abiy is good enough for them, he sure is good enough for me.
That is why I have resolved to defend PM Abiy against the forces of the Dark Side who practice the politics of personal destruction across continents through an orchestrated campaign of negativism, defeatism, cynicism, pessimism, dogmatism, ethnocentrism, antagonism and atavism.
In a recent Amharic commentary, Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam, the stalwart of Ethiopian human rights, wrote, “It appears there are many standing in the shadows to ambush him [PM Abiy].”
Indeed, the forces of the Dark Side have continued their war of words against PM Abiy by proxy hiding in the shadowy anonymity of the world wide web. They have nothing positive to say about PM Abiy. They recycle the same tired and baseless rumors and allegations. “Abiy is a woyane puppet. Woyane raised him. They control him. He is doing their dirty work. Woyane is so cunning and clever they have brainwashed him into becoming the Ethiopian version of the Manchurian Candidate. He is a woyane sleeper agent. He is all talk, no action. He travels so much, when will he get anything done?” Blah, blah…
If the holier-than-thou forces of the Dark Side arrayed against PM Abiy could support their allegations with any evidence of word or deed, I would be on their side pointing an accusatory finger at him. But they do not have a shred of evidence to support their accusations.
My personal challenge to the forces of the Dark Side is this: “Put up your evidence against PM Abiy or shut up.” Stop your politics of personal destruction!
Let me make myself clear. Griping, grousing, bellyaching, teeth gnashing, demonizing, scapegoating, moaning and groaning is NOT evidence.
I would normally ignore the ignoramuses of the Dark Side who repeat baseless accusations and allegations like a broken record. But I can’t because I am mindful of Goethe’s admonition, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”
I never fear the power of knowledge, but the power of ignorance I hold in great fear. Ignoramuses are like a bull in a china shop. They destroy everything good around them.
Ignorance is not an empty mind waiting to be filled with knowledge. The ignorant mind is filled to the brim with hate, suspicion, self-doubt, revenge, animosity and jealousy. There is no room in the ignorant mind for facts and evidence.
What makes ignorant people dangerous is that they believe whatever they know is all there is to know. They don’t ask questions. They don’t gather evidence. They don’t think critically.
Ignorance is a contagious disease. It is a pathogen that passes from one human to another like influenza. The ignorant prey on the minds of the vulnerable, the confused, the desperate, the powerless and the excluded. They don’t know they don’t know, so they assume. As they say, when you assume, you make an ass of you and me.
The funny thing to me is that the forces of the Dark Side can’t hold a candle to PM Abiy. Except for gripes and empty criticisms, I have not seen anyone of them stand up and give PM Abiy a run for his money. If his critics are so sure that they can do a better job, why don’t they show us their road map for democracy in Ethiopia, their draft for constitutional revision, their plan for economic recovery as the country is mired in a hard currency crisis and decline in direct foreign investment.
If they have a plan that will restore economic prosperity, ensure respect for human rights, institute democratic and electoral reforms in less than 30 days, which is what they expect of PM Abiy, I will switch to their side in a New York minute.
I believe the real reason the forces of the Dark Side are after PM Abiy is because they are afraid he will succeed against all odds. If he can come out of nowhere literally and command so much respect , confidence and admiration, he will likely succeed in his aspirations for good governance, anti-corruption efforts and promotion of peace and reconciliation. If he succeeds, the forces of the Dark Side at home and abroad are doomed. Their dreams and ambitions for power are kaput, gone, dead. They will no longer be able to divide and rule. They can no longer use ethnicity and religion as wedge issues. It’s game over for them.
So, all the opposition against PM Abiy by the forces of the Dark Side is based on unfounded assumptions. They assume and so make an ass of you and me.
The need for PM Abiy to properly message Diaspora Ethiopians
PM Abiy should properly message Diaspora Ethiopians by listening to their concerns and issues. In the few weeks he has been in office, he has done an outstanding job of reaching out to Diasporans. But there are many in the Diaspora silent majority who are being confused, misled and bamboozled by the forces of the Dark Side. Every day they are bombarded by false and misleading information that is creating doubts and suspicions in their minds about PM Abiy’s ideas and motives.
Just to take one recent example. They tell me that they have “heard” PM Abiy’s invitation to Diasporans to return home is actually a woyane trap. It is a trick to bring in unsuspecting and naïve Diasporans back into the country and spring the trap door shut on them as soon as they present a real challenge. They say PM Abiy has offered no guarantees for their personal safety. They say it makes no sense to return while the state of emergency is in effect because they could easily be victims of the so-called command post.
They tell me there are actually two governments in Ethiopia, the civilian one headed by PM Abiy and the “real” command post government controlled by others. They say the command post government will not let PM Abiy do anything major and will obstruct all his reform efforts. The command post is jailing people secretly even without PM Abiy’s knowledge. The command post government just wants to buy more time using PM Abiy as their front man. They say as long as the anti-terrorism law is on the books, they can never be assured of their personal safety.
I have no answers for these concerns. I am sure there will be clarifications in due course.
My sense is that the forces of the Dark Side will attempt to exploit this to their advantage and antagonize, discredit and delegitimize PM Abiy in the eyes of Diasporans and turn them against him.
That’s is why I believe it is important for PM Abiy to properly message Diaspora Ethiopians. He must, if possible, live message Diaspora Ethiopians on social media or other technologies.
PM Abiy fighting Diaspora pessimism, cynicism, defeatism… with a strong live message of optimism, enthusiasm, communitarianism and idealism
PM Abiy can say or do nothing to satisfy those on the Dark Side.
But I wish to strongly advise him not to underestimate the forces of the Dark Side in Ethiopia or in the Diaspora. They are “out to ambush him”, as Prof. Mesfin said.
I know (I am not guessing) they are coordinating to build an anti-PM Abiy momentum which they hope will gather steam as the months wear on. PM Abiy should heed Sun Tzu’s strategic advice, “He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.”
I am amused by the game of psychological attrition they are planning to play.
It is said that “nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news.”
The forces of the Dark Side hope to use the strategy of spreading little bits of bad news every day to belittle, undermine and discredit PM Abiy. They are banking on the malaise of fatalism, group think and herd mentality among many Ethiopians, particularly in the Diaspora to get the job done.
In my capacity as a human rights defender and campaigner, I communicate in a variety of ways with Ethiopians from all walks of life. The forces of the Dark Side are toiling away to create ambivalence about PM Abiy through negative reporting. Many people tell me that having seen and heard PM Abiy and are impressed by his palpable integrity and sincerity. He speaks of unity and Ethiopiawinet. He does not speak like a politician but an abused citizen. He uses language never heard of in the Ethiopian political landscape.
“So, what is the problem”, I ask.
They tell me. “You don’t know. You can’t trust him. The woyane raised and trained him. He is their Trojan Horse. He is woyanes’ ace in the hole. One even used an old Ethiopian aphorism to be dismissive. ‘Afu kibe, lebu chube.’ He is silver-tongued with a dagger in his heart. Another said, “yalteretere temenetere.” He who failed to be suspicious got himself wiped out.
I cannot understand such bizarre reactions. Truth be told, I have often wondered on which planet these people spend most of their time when they are not on earth.
As a political scientist, I have had opportunity to study the effects of negative political advertising. I consider the rumor mongering and dissemination of bad news by the forces of the Dark Side a form of negative political advertising.
Political psychologists observe negative political advertising works. Some suggest humans may even be hardwired for negative stimuli originating in our evolutionary history when our survival was constantly threated by predators. There is empirical evidence to show that most people give more attention to and exercise greater retention of negative or bad information and experiences than positive ones.
My anecdotal observation is that many Ethiopians I have interacted with are afflicted by fatalism (belief things are predetermined and human beings are powerless to change them). They tend to express an attitude of resignation about the future and even the inevitability of something always going wrong. The feel completely powerless and are paralyzed from taking action. They give it all to God to do it for them.
Such fatalism feeds on negativity and cynicism and has a disempowering effect. Suspicion and distrust become the fertile ground upon which the forces of the Dark Side can plant animosity and opposition against PM Abiy.
Ignorance I believe is the source of suspicion. We fear what we do not know and therefore we suspect everything will end up in a disaster.
Former U.S. Defense Secretary once said, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
For many Ethiopians afflicted by fatalism, they know all there is to be known and if there is an unknown, it is to be feared because the unknown always means unknown danger and doom.
PM Abiy’s message should answer the question: Is the Ethiopia glass half full or half empty?
I must speak the truth. Fatalism is a way of life for many Ethiopians I have observed in the Diaspora. Many see the Ethiopia glass as half full.
Many of the folks I talk to have a general tendency to think, feel and behave as if things will always go wrong in Ethiopian politics specifically. They don’t see the potentially great opportunities that could come from PM Abiy’s term in office. They only see dangers and pitfalls in what he is doing or planning to do. As a result, they have little hope for the future of Ethiopia.
To some extent, such an outlook may be understandable given the decades of abuse of power and bad governance. But such an outlook also becomes an obstacle, when a real opportunity for good governance and change appears. As I have previously observed, Ethiopians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
PM Abiy has done an outstanding job inspiring optimism in the future. He exudes confidence and inspires others to be confident of Ethiopia’s and their own futures. He has been careful not to be over-optimistic and make reckless promises. In fact, he has stated on many occasions what he can and cannot do and his own limitations. He has tried to promote a can-do spirit in the people and challenged the younger generation to develop a spirit of volunteerism and disciplined work ethic.
But he must be proactive in messaging Diaspora Ethiopains to be hopeful about Ethiopia’s future.
The forces of the Dark Side are waging a campaign to show Ethiopia is half full and PM Abiy will completely empty it out if he remains in office. He must be able to craft a positive and optimistic message to transform those who have become habitual pessimists and whose knee-jerk reaction is to respond negatively even to positive developments by always finding fault and doubt.
Pessimism is the flip side of the fatalism coin. It is a destructive attitude. It makes people passive and powerless. It is paralyzing. It prevents them from making efforts to improve things. Pessimism always ends up in defeat and in accepting things, however bad, as they are.
PM Abiy should heed Dr. Martin Luther King’s advice. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The forces of the Dark Side cannot be driven out by darkness. They can only be driven out by the forces of the Light Side or simply The Force.
The Force consists of 75 million young people. The Force of those who have been deprived of justice and equality is before him. The Force is all around him.
PM Abiy must proactively engage Diaspora Ethiopians. The Force is behind him. The momentum is on his side. The young people, 75 million strong, are behind him. The international community is behind him. Former U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs twitted him a message, “Do not be reluctant to take bold steps toward democratic reform. The international community is behind you.”
We in the Diaspora are behind him. He must tell us everything as it is. He must tell us his hopes as well as his fears. He must tell us what he can and cannot do. He must us how we can help him succeed and what will likely happen if he fails.
He must tell us and all Ethiopians, as did Mandela the people of South Africa, that the road to freedom is long and hard and when we climb a great hill, we will find out that there are more hills to climb.
So, what should be his message of climbing the hills and mountains of problems Ethiopia faces. He should repeat Dr. King’s counsel to us: “If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
We have to keep moving forward because going back to the days of tyranny are not an option. Onward to freedom. demoracy and human rights.
We must all keep moving forward and climb the great hill and the little ones too.
The power of optimism- PM Abiy keeping his head pointed to the sun, and not the Dark Side
In one of his town hall meeting with members of the business community, PM Abiy asked that business people and Diasporans should do everything they can to improve the image of Ethiopia internationally.
Indeed, he is today the public image of Ethiopia. As such, he must continue and intensify his own efforts to project an image of optimism, hope and success about Ethiopia to the world.
When it comes to optimism, PM Abiy could learn from Mandela:
I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lay defeat and death.
Mandela also said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
I believe Prof. Mesfin had Mandela in mind when he recently wrote in an Amharic commentary, “In my estimation, those who are expressing bitter opposition against him could be transformed into becoming his supporters.”
PM Abiy must be a fundamental optimist like Mandela.
Electronic Town Hall for the Ethiopian Diaspora?
The forces of the Dark Side are spreading rumor that PM Abiy is coming to the U.S. There is no evidence to support that rumor. It is highly unlikely he will take a trip across the ocean to meet Diasporans with his plates full in Ethiopia.
But thanks to modern technology, he can meet in cyberspace at the time of his choosing. There are various alternatives and technologies to directly engage Diaspora Ethiopians. Beyond outreach calls, PM Abiy could have a conversation with Diasporans just like the ones he has been having in various parts of Ethiopia over the past few weeks.
PM Abiy can repair the disconnect between Diasporans and political process in Ethiopia. He can address the cynicism that is preventing some of us people from being engaged. He can engage them in meaningful discourse and convince us to return home and participate meaningfully in the political life of the country or contribute from where ever we may be. He can listen to our concerns, answer our questions and share his own concerns and issues with us. It will be a give and take process.
A discussion agenda could be prepared in advance. I would recommend the dialogue to occur in two parts: an exchange of concerns and issues and a discussion of solutions.
The electronic town hall will not be a finger-pointing, teeth-gnashing, bellyaching or recrimination session. It will be a forum for constructive discussion and solution-seeking. Properly planned, such an electronic town hall could produce carefully thought out action plans, policy papers and recommendations. But I get ahead of myself…
So, in the spirit of my last commentary, I ask PM Abiy what the Ethiopian Diaspora could do for him and he for them.
I offer to coordinate for PM Abiy an electronic town hall for Diaspora Ethiopians. I will even offer myself as a moderator. But anyone the PM chooses to moderate will be perfectly fine with me. It does not matter to me who sets up the electronic town hall as long as it gets done.
I say to PM Abiy, like we say it in America, “Let’s git ‘er done!”
I remind PM Abiy his words about Diaspora Ethiopians, which I share wholeheartedly, “You can take an Ethiopian out of Ethiopia, but you cannot take Ethiopia out of the heart of an Ethiopian.”
PM Abiy should know all Diasporans have Ethiopia on our minds just like Ray Charles had “Georgia on his mind”. Paraphrasing Ray:
… Other arms reach out to me; /Other eyes smile tenderly.
Still in peaceful dreams I see, /The road leads back to you.
I said, Ethiopia, oh Ethiopia/
… no peace I find. Just an old sweet song keeps Ethiopia on my mind.
(Thanks Teddy “Afro” Kassahun!)
Were I asked if I considered myself and optimist or pessimist, I would simply say, “Try going stronger than ever after nearly thirteen years of unrelenting struggle for human rights in Ethiopia being a pessimist!
Were I asked if I believe Ethiopia’s cup is half full or half empty, my answer is simple.
“My cup runneth over.”
May the Force be with PM Abiy and all of us who wish only the very best for Ethiopia!