Can We Make It Happen? Speech to ECNAS Fundraiser in Toronto
Here is the draft text of the speech I gave Saturday night, December 4, 2021. I am hugely grateful to have been one of the guests of honour, along with Dr. Ann Fitz-Gerald and Ambassador Kadafo Hanfare.
…I do hope there’s some value in what I say here tonight, and I want to test-drive a few concepts. Because we’re here thanks to a war. I’ve seen the effects of that war, I’ve seen the toll it takes on ordinary people, its costs, its losses.
This fight is over the soul of a nation. It’s a fight against an enemy that’s a kind of evil I could scarcely measure more than a year ago, and I’ve interviewed gang members and a couple of sociopaths. When it’s over, when it’s finally, thankfully, blessedly over — when you can see through the smoke of charred buildings and you can notice the food bowls finally getting stacked away on the trucks because the IDPs each have a place to call home — when you can enjoy again the unblemished, endless green that I saw in Wollo and Gondar, a new foundation has to be built out of all this pain and suffering that makes the blood and the sacrifice worth it.
That doesn’t simply mean a new, stronger and resurrected Ethiopia. Yes, of course, it does, and I have been saying for ages that when this is over, if I may humbly suggest, you start in the schools. You teach children and adults how all the different ethnic groups cooperated and collaborated and mixed through the thousands of years of history to create this incredible nation in Africa. That’s not propaganda, that’s fact! I can back it up with references and history, and I intend to write a new history of Ethiopia with that very premise.
But we need to go beyond even that. Because what Hermela Aregawi, Simon Tesfaemariam, Nebiyu Asfaw and other emerging leaders have created with the #NoMore movement has become the rebirth of the true Pan-African spirit.
#NoMore was created to tell the powers that be, No more Western interference. No more proxy wars. No more lying in your reportage on Ethiopia and Africa. No more lying by human rights organizations like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. And this movement is building around the world, with people holding up signs in Ecuador and Belgium, getting major stars like Akon of Senegal coming onboard. But if we say, Okay, no more of that, what do we want to say we do want more of? The movement also has to be positive. It needs values that it defines for itself. It needs to evolve.
I am saying all this as a white ally. If you’ll forgive the expression, I literally have no skin in the game. And I think I realized why certain white reporters and critics think it’s okay to sneer at my work and positions. They probably consider themselves enlightened white liberals, and I bet to them, they think their work is done. Africa’s independent, right? It’s free, Britain and the U.S. are off the hook. “Neocolonialism must be a conspiracy!” There’s a jackass at Oxford who watched the video with the diplomats and proclaimed that only die-hard conspiracists could see anything in it. This man is supposedly a Horn of Africa expert, which means he’s studied your peoples, your countries, and it still hasn’t sunk in for him yet that he doesn’t get to tell you what’s important — that you get to decide what’s important.
Shameless plug, I have a new book coming out next year, it’s called The Gifts of Africa, and it’s about the intellectual legacy that Africa has given the world. Because in the West, you never hear about that, do you? And so I researched Zera Yacob and St. Augustine and Ibn Khaldun and Wangari Maathai and Steve Biko. And Biko wrote about how “even those whites who see much wrong with the apartheid system make it their business to control the response of the blacks to the provocation.” And powerful whites are still doing it! They’ve decided who are the “good” Africans for them and who are the “bad” Africans. And then they let a bigot like Mukesh Kapila say the vilest things on Twitter and on television.
These white authorities don’t ask you what you think because it’s beyond their imagination to collaborate, to take a secondary role or to simply shut up and listen. I had a phone conversation a few days ago with Simon Tesfaemariam and talking to Simon is always an experience because he’s so smart, and it’s like ideas are bursting to get out of him so he talks really, really fast. And I realized I’m an idiot. I remind people all the time, I’m no activist, I just write books. And okay, that’s a humble pose, but talking to Simon I believe it. He and Nebiyu and Hermela and others created this amazing thing that is taking off, and me… I get the privilege of knowing them and bearing witness.
But I had a few ideas, so I consulted Simon and Amanuel Berhanu — one of the brilliant young organizers in Washington — to check what they thought of them so there’s a collaborative process always going on here. So that any movement of Pan-African unity takes its cue from African leaders, and white allies defer to their judgment and agenda, not the other way around. So these are my thoughts, and this is how I see things, but it’s been looked over by others.
Simon and I were both guests on the Political Misfits show on Sputnik Thursday afternoon, and to use a reporter’s expression, he talks in quotes. He talked about how when “Ethiopia moves, Africa moves.” Well, Ethiopia’s moving, and how do you want to steer? First, whatever we call the next step, it needs to be a movement of social consciousness. Again, to quote Simon, what he calls a “roving army of peace.”
Historically, progressive movements like Black Lives Matter or Defund the Police or whatever get slammed by critics, especially by the Ben Shapiros and the Tucker Carlsons of the world, for leaning towards Marxism, radical politics, etc. and it’s true that many of our best media allies today have some really questionable notions — and I’m saying that as a left-wing person. But this shouldn’t be about left or right. If you’ve ever read the economist George Ayittey, for example, and I have, and I’ve interviewed the man more than once, you can believe in a strong, independent Africa while holding right-wing views. The movement should be able to embrace everyone on the spectrum who supports an Africa free of Western interference and which is self-reliant.
Sounds nice, but how should that express itself? I talked earlier about education. We’re all familiar with the impact of The 1619 Project, but as admirable as that was, its focus was of course on the African American experience. What’s needed is an 1896 Project. Better still, forget about using a date to be so imitative — how about the Dinknesh Project? And the fact that we’ll have to even explain that to Western folks who may have only heard of Lucy is Step One in the effort to prompt an educational revolution over Africa. Because humanity started in Ethiopia.
Why is it that you find so few good books on the general history of African nations? Ones that celebrate the culture or achievements without depicting some kind of tragedy? I’m not saying ignore the colonial period or the famines or the wars but go ahead and walk into the Indigo store at Bay and Bloor or the one in the mall over on Dundas, and that’s most of what you get. And all of you know only too well that these don’t make up the sum of who you are. Not for Ethiopia — and not for Somalia or Niger or Cameroon.
The Dinknesh Project. The most insightful, most engaging African writers and scholars brought together and offering articles about their respective cultures and experiences, about influences and impacts, just as The 1619 Project offered a historical blueprint of scholarship. Can we make this happen?
Then there’s the push to change the way West reports on Africa. And this is absolutely urgent. I put most of my key ideas into my “Counter-Lecture” over Nima Elbagir’s address to the Carleton Journalism School, so I won’t summarize those again. But we need to press for change because you can bet that once they are through with Ethiopia, and especially if they succeed, they will use the same playbook on another African nation.
We need a Pan-African television network, and I know someone’s trying to do that, but let’s make sure that happens. Because as I said in the video, until Africa has its own network with a T-Rex footprint like Al Jazeera and CNN and BBC, they’ll get away with telling your stories. And lying.
And while we’re at it, kick Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch out of Africa. Get rid of Crisis Group. Deport Sahan Research. Like these Western correspondents, they are not accountable to you. They don’t answer to you. They answer to those who fund them. So they get away with lying about Mai Kadra, lying about Axum, putting photos of Iraq and Afghanistan up on tweets about Africa…
And in the cases of Crisis Group and Sahan Research, they are deliberately working to destabilize countries. Get rid of them. Create organizations that are for Africans and accountable to them. Can we make this happen?
Freedom to Move. I’ll also have this in my book, but why is it that Europe and North America are doing their best to keep Africa like a gulag and won’t allow its people to travel? I know that all of you here tonight thank your lucky stars that you’re able to live here, visit here, go back and forth, but you know that millions of others can’t. You know what hurdles and obstacles the Western authorities create just to block legal migrants — professionals like yourselves who simply want to come over to attend medical conferences, tech conventions, any number of reasonable events that a European or an Anglo or French Canadian wouldn’t bat an eye about booking a ticket for to attend in London or Brussels.
Why do they treat Africans like criminals before they’ve even boarded a plane? And why do African countries still have on their books the old colonizers’ rules about traveling from say, Ethiopia to Nigeria or Sudan to Botswana?
Corporations are free to go wherever the hell they want in this world. Why can’t people? Why can’t African people? Break down those barriers and give them the freedom to move. Because until you have those options like me, like other Westerners, to go where you want, live where you want, visit where you want, the African is not truly free. Let’s make this happen, too.
I’ll finish with a few brief words about my own way forward. I hope to go back to Ethiopia soon. I have to go back. I support Ethiopia’s right to defend itself. I’ve defended that right online, in videos, in interviews. But if I am going to support this just war then I need to be there again to share — as best I can, as limited as that may be — what the people there are going through, even if only by being there. I need to bear witness. Others are trying to help, and I think the issue really comes down to financing, but I got to find a way to fly over in a couple of weeks or so.
I once wrote that Ethiopia goes on because its people believe in it. I believe in it. The greatest compliment and honor of my life has been your acceptance of me, of people being kind enough to consider me one of your own, to call me brother. I take that to heart. I believe in Ethiopia, and I believe in its leadership of a new Pan-African movement that will break the last remaining chains of Western interference and domination.