We become our names. That is why one of the most important decisions parents make is what to call their children. This truism became glaringly evident two days ago as a young Ethiopian lady claimed the microphone with the soul of arbegnoch and spoke defiantly in defense of Ethiopiawinet. In a paradigm where many are flocking to zeregnenet (tribalism) and seeking the easy way by catering to people’s tribal disposition, a poet reminded us of the inherent love of Ethiopia that is embedded in our DNAs.
As noted, people become their names. Where Jawar declares wars with his jaws and splinters Ethiopians along ethnic lines, Hilina Desalegn gladly became our conscience and extolled the essence of unity through her verses. Without mentioning names, she reduced the playbook of demagogues to ashes and did so with the elegance of a butterfly and the tenacity of jegnas at Adwa.
There is a reason why despots tremble before ideas more than they fear bullets. Words have a way of awakening the spirits of dejected people. For forty-five years, Ethiopians have been subjected to one repression after another and have been conditioned through a mix of propaganda and anguish to a point of collective depression. Where some choose to isolate behind indifference or mirror the tactics of ethnonationalism that landed our country into a state of disrepair, Hilina courageously opted to stand for Ethiopiawinet and preached unity in the face of sectionalism.
In her wake, she left a trail of disheveled ethnic extremists who’ve had almost a free reign to peddle their toxic snake oil of factionalism. Hilina did not speak against just one group but against all tribal ministers without bias to ethnicity; the ones who are screaming the loudest today are the ones who have been barking about ethnic grievances the hardest. It is a sight to behold seeing grown adults being so unnerved by a young lady who spoke harsh truths about their poisonous trade.
Hilina is proof that the spirit of Ethiopiawinet is not dead, there is hope yet that love of country and our common humanity will rise above the ghettos of narcissistic ethnicity. We have been saying for a while that we need an Adwa Awakening in our time, one that revisits the strength of our forefathers and takes a step forward with the spirit of unity and andinet. Hilina, with her strong advocacy for Ethiopiawinet, might have just whispered a mighty wind into the sails of this movement.
This is the point that was articulated in our Enkutatash message, if we are to rise as a nation and restore hope for future generations, we can only do so through togetherness. This is the essence of Ethiopiawinet that must not be lost, unity does not mean conformity, we can acknowledge our differences without erasing our national heritage. Hilina knows what many refuse to see, focusing on just our own without realizing our connective existence is the reason why “our dogs of surpassed us” as she so eloquently stated in her poem.
Now is a time that calls for open conversations with the intentions of healing, there are pains that many communities within Ethiopia feel that need to be heard. Dismissing the injustices felt by various ethnic groups will only lead to further strife and inflames passions. However, the ways that zealots are inciting emotions and pitting one against another is nothing short of evil, all Ethiopians irrespective of our differences have suffered in the past, only by hearing each other out and being compassionate can we better our nation. Ethiopiawinet is not about “just us” but about inclusive justice that considers the interests of all 110 million back home and abroad.
Though our present condition of Ethiopia is one of adversity, there is a brighter day that awaits us the minute we put aside anger and embrace love. We can either get better together or become poorer apart. Ethiopiawinet is not just some slogan from the past, it is a roadmap to redemption.