Ethiopia, Without Shame
A country’s soul is more than its borders, its current government, its debt and exports.
You won’t kill its soul with false narratives, academic journal articles and insults on social media.
Ethiopia is ancient, bigger than the whispers and the noise, replenished by its own resources and faiths, its people’s remarkable ingenuity and courage, its diversity and its unity.
Ethiopia goes on because its people believe in it.
I have now read my umpteenth article that pushes an alternative reality that one of the oldest nations in Africa is somehow a fiction.
You could fill up a whole day, just checking articles online, both from major Western media and smaller sites geared for diaspora audiences, that predict the imminent doom of Ethiopia. In some scenarios, it eats itself alive through ethnic genocide, in others, its conflict in Tigray spreads to a wider, horror-filled war that engulfs most of the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile at the same time, we get a lecture on auto-repeat that Ethiopia never really existed. It never was, and yet somehow it’s still some kind of threat, and so its critics will still use its name and call it evil.
A young woman recently posted on Twitter: “When I see someone’s profile pic or page with these colors [meaning the Ethiopian green, yellow and red], it makes me want to vomit.”
The only upside to this was the tide of brilliantly comical responses she received and probably never expected, but I want you to think about the spite that went into her message, the indoctrination that must have fueled it.
Whatever legitimate grievances a specific region may have, it is something else altogether to spread this kind of toxic hate speech. It’s not against a political creed. It’s not the equivalent of saying, “I hate Nazis” or even “I hate conservatives” or “I hate liberals.” Okay, you can throw all the rationalizations you want my way about the oppressive legacy of the Ethiopian imperial system that prompted this supposed frustration, blah, blah, blah, but in this tweet, you are basically still saying you hate a whole country. And you feel entitled to say so.
And somehow people get away with this shit.
How did things get this far? Contrary to what you may have been told, the grievances haven’t built up over the centuries and suddenly exploded. No, this wasn’t all thanks to the last 100 plus years and the supposedly blood-soaked creation of the modern Ethiopian state (whoops, we’re not supposed to acknowledge there is one — my bad). It’s come to this because of an ideology.
Weeds flourish when there’s good manure, and it certainly had lots of it. Like a weed, the ideology has grown where it can, taking advantage of this space or that, conveniently bending itself to where it will get the most light and attention.
In some versions, we’re told Ethiopia was a cruel hoax that its rulers played on the people for thousands of years. It’s the “Abyssinian Empire,” which we’re supposed to believe was an Amhara-dominated clique, even though one of its greatest emperors was from Tigray. Even though one of this mythical country’s greatest heroes and patriots was another fellow from Tigray, Ras Alula. Even though as Richard Greenfield noted, Shoa rulers occasionally married into Oromo families. Even though its most celebrated emperor had mixed-heritage and negotiated submission from many Oromo groups. Even though its last emperor had partial Oromo ancestry.
The custodians of this poisonous garden don’t care about inherent contradictions. As with Trump cheerleaders, the advocates of this defeatism like to change their tune when under pressure. If Ethiopia is more theory than real country, then their pet theory can change whenever they need it to, and it can be whatever they want it to be.
What is the point of all this relentless, contradictory slander? The goal is destruction.
Sixty, seventy years ago, if you were called an “Ethiopianist,” it meant you studied Ethiopian history. But today, we’re supposed to buy the idea that “Ethiopianism” is a politically-loaded dogma you should either be ashamed of or embarrassed by, that if you happen to believe in the country as a whole (never mind where you stand on the political spectrum, left, right, whatever), you must take on the spiritual baggage of monarchist nostalgia.
If you like your country, it must mean that you somehow condone massacres committed in a past century, or that you’re a naïve simpleton. Poor you — you just don’t “get” these sophisticated underpinnings of political theory.
I’ve written this before: there is no denying that Ethiopia had an empire. But to argue or claim that its empire was equivalent to the horrors of colonialism by Western empires in the 19th century, or was even in the same ball park, is a farcical notion at best and more akin to a Fascist propagandist’s pipe dream.
While current and some past histories emphasize the competition between the ethnic peoples of Ethiopia, I believe it’s time for a fresh interpretation that recognizes a more collaborative aspect to the history, noting how all the peoples played a role in building the country.
This is not wishful thinking. There is evidence to support this, and I plan to write a whole book on it.
I have touched on the roots of the poison before in another article, how some Western scholars liked to treat Africans the way entomologists treat bugs under slides — they talked about Ethiopians as if they were small children in the background of a room. Like some Western journalists today, they hardly ever talked to them, let alone for them. They could afford to spin this bullshit, because quite often, who was reading their rubbish printed in obscure journals except their own peers? They enjoyed their “exotic” sabbaticals in a distant African country and went back to their teaching positions in universities in America and Europe.
Along the way, radicals in academic circles and Ethiopian politics found this malleable mythology useful. After all, it already had the validation of university “scholarship.” Forget whether it’s factual or grounded in reality, it would serve their purpose. And besides, who bothers to look up the critical reviews that ask, Where’s your evidence, what you are basing this stuff on? Nope. If you pile up enough articles and cite them in screen-shots, you’ll look clever enough.
It is time to banish this nonsense once and for all. Because you see its toxic fruits everywhere. Notice how many “analyses” we get every day, hammering again and again on how Ethiopia must be on its last legs?
Here are a few samples of the typical gobbledygook that tries to pass itself off as historical summary and analysis: “For instance, as the Amhara inherited the Tigrayan thesis of Ethiopianism and wrote their antithesis, similarly, the Oromos synthesize the modern-day Ethiopia of the Menelik II mold. Maybe Abiy is infusing new Oromo energy into the synthesis again so that what Oromos lost could be reclaimed, mutating Ethiopia into a new Oromo-tinged kaleidoscope.” Then there’s this: “The shift of power from the north to south Ethiopia would contribute to the early retirement of the Abyssinian empire.” And this lovely ethnic slander disguised as observation: “The Amhara, the self-proclaimed custodians of Ethiopia’s empire state, are nervous…”
Frankly, I really wonder whether the authors of such drivel ever expect their articles to be read. I think they must hope, as with students cramming for midterms, that their articles will be scanned. Affirmative nods, maybe a second glance for another screen-shot useful in one more interminable Twitter debate.
At this point, I have to bring out my standard disclaimer. I don’t have an opinion on the Abiy government. I’ve never offered a public opinion, nor do I feel entitled to make one. I’ve said little as of this date on social media about the most recent events unfolding in Tigray because I simply don’t know enough and there is so much that we still need to learn about the evolving situation (but how the war began with the TPLF’s “pre-emptive strike” is now a matter of historical fact). Ironically, in assigning me the dubious “honor” of making me one of their targets for goading and hounding, the trolls have encouraged me to actually take a stronger stand.
My position is not aligned with any Ethiopian political entity, let alone the government. But it is partisan to the extent that I believe in Ethiopia. It extends sincere good wishes for whatever political remedy Ethiopians come up with themselves to solve their own problems, whether that answer winds up being a secession referendum or a rewriting of the constitution or whatever they want. Let them sort out their own politics.
But the stakes behind the disinformation campaign waged by the TPLF on the run and other extremists are too big. They will have repercussions long after the current conflict ends. This warping and perversion of history robs a young population of its own posterity. It must be fought, just as truth always needs to be fought for.
I can’t think offhand of another recent example where the political situation in a country has deteriorated so much that its people at home and abroad are inundated on a daily and hourly basis with propaganda deliberately designed to make them hate who they are and feel ashamed of where they come from. It’s not just about pitting one ethnic group against another — we’ve seen that before many times in Europe and Africa. This seemingly endless toxic wave, developed by those who should be their brothers and sisters, says: Hate your ethnic group and your country. Hate all of it. Hate your heritage and nation. Hate your flag. Hate your past.
And then it lies to the Western world and asks it to add fuel to the bonfire. It lies and claims others elsewhere in Ethiopia don’t care about Tigrayans when they so clearly do. It lies and insists that all Tigrayans must naturally side with the TPLF, and it’s been so successful that lazy Western journalists conflate the two and talk about them as if they’re interchangeable.
It lies and ignores the millions of Ethiopians of mixed heritage, who can be Amhara and Tigrayan, Oromo and Gurage and Amhara, and again I ask, Who speaks for them?
The lies go on and on…
I say: No.
I am a foreigner. I have no rights here, in this context. It’s not my country, not my race, not my people. But I will love its people and the country anyway, because there are those from this land who have given me such sincere, gracious support that I owe them. I owe them more words. And even when I try to decline, muttering that it’s not my place, they tell me no, please stick with it, please stand by us, remain an ally. Please.
And so I write: A country’s soul is more than its borders, its current government, its debt and exports.
Ethiopia goes on because its people believe in it.
But to nourish that belief, to fight the relentless poison, new methods are needed. Endless debates on Twitter won’t turn the tide. Even when more facts emerge over the current conflict, it won’t stop the crisis merchants, the academic vampires and the prophets of doom. New tools are needed to preserve the soul of a nation.
I have a humble suggestion on that score.
Whether it’s in the diaspora or in Ethiopia itself, there must be a clever young man or woman who remembers the examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who recognizes the power of a nonviolent, spiritual grass-roots movement. It doesn’t have to be — indeed, it shouldn’t be — political in nature, aligning itself with one of the current parties. Its goal would be to revive a spirit of collaboration, of appreciation for all the peoples of the country with the goal of recognizing each other’s worth. Its tangible expressions can be in cultural events and in scholarship that sees things as they are in history, the truth, neither the varnished lie or the revisionist propaganda.
After Italians invaded Ethiopia, after they bombed and dropped poison gas on the country, people from all over rose up and formed an insurgency. They were heroes, and they called themselves Patriots.
It is time for Patriots to make their presence known again. Not with weapons or violence but armed with ideas.
A Patriot in this context is someone who gently, quietly sees the worth in their brother or sister from miles away and sees the potential in them building a nation together. A Patriot speaks out over incidents of ethnic cleansing, whether it be with Tigrayans as victims or Amhara, Oromo or another ethnic group. Whatever political form Ethiopians decide for the future or who they elect, these new Patriots would build a movement that believes in Ethiopia for itself.
Somewhere, I’m sure, there must be young Ethiopians who have such a vision, who will lead others. How they develop that vision is up to them. It’s just a suggestion…
There may be those who hate the Ethiopian flag. I say it is the banner of a nation’s soul.
Oh, something else worth thinking about with the flag. Consider one of its earliest designs — from Tigray. A nation is more than the sum of its parts.
While the conflict in Tigray winds its way down, the battle for the soul of Ethiopia goes on.
But there must be Patriots somewhere, ready to defend it with a fresh, new spirit of inclusiveness and unity.