By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Abraham Lincoln
This statement was made by the United States 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural speech. Lincoln was concerned about the division and advocacy of Sothern States for secession from the US. He ascended to power as the tension between the North and the South reached its epic proportion. When Lincoln was elected as the President of the United States, seven southern states seceded from the United States and formed what is known as the Confederate States of America. Despite Lincoln’s effort to avoid war, America entered into its bloodiest civil war in 1861. Mindful of opposition to his presidency, Lincoln made a statement in his inaugural speech that declared “We are not enemies”. He also predicted that America would be saved by “the better angels of our nature.”.
There is a saying I grew up with “instead of learning from your ordeals, learn from the ordeals of others who went through it”. Time and again, politicians, intellectuals, and pundits have clearly stated the advantage of unity over division. That does not seem to be clear to some of our politicians and activists in Ethiopia. Our country went through hell for years and unexpectedly took a turn for the better since April 2018. Despite positive changes, the last six months have been very challenging. The change that came through blood, sweat, and enormous pain brought a visionary leader who is trying hard to change our violent political culture. Despite his effort, kindness, and the vision he has for Ethiopia, his shortcomings are one factor that is contributing for the current chaos we are watching unfold. Obviously, the problem we have cannot be solved by only one man. Most of us are making matters worse and pointing fingers at others instead of helping him and his team to reform our political system. Sadly, some people are doing what they can, not only to undermine the reform process but also reverse the achievement gained so far and return the country to its worst period of our times.
As Donald Trump attempted to remind us, Lincoln was a Republican. Although President Lincoln had the support of the majority in the Republican Party, there were radical members of his party, who supported his agenda but also wanted him to take harsh measures against the secessionists. Lincoln opposed these radicals as much as he opposed the Democrats most of whom despised him and wanted him to make a deal with the secessionists and end the war. It was a very difficult period in America and Lincoln had to carefully navigate between the Radical Republicans and the Democrats who were known then as “Copperheads”.
Although the comparison may not be parallel to our current situation, we can learn from Lincoln’s political wisdom and his ability to craft a policy that ultimately reserved the unity of the United States of America. As it has been said so many times, Prime Minister Abiy and his team can’t solely transform our country into a democratic system of government. Responsible citizens, political activists, political organizations, and most of all our elders must play a critical and leading role to stabilize the nation and bring different factions together towards our common goals. To implement the reformist agenda that will put our country on a trajectory towards peace, stability, sustained economic development, continued political freedom and social change, we must all actively take part in our country’s affairs and contribute our fair share for better outcomes.
If anything, the last seven months have taught us, there are those who will do whatever is necessary to create chaos and ferment ethnic hatred among our people. They will continue to do what they want to do. The only way these individuals and groups can succeed if we let them. For now, they are using unemployed and desperate youngsters to promote and implement their ill-conceived agenda. We see anarchy in Harar, Wollega, Keffa, Gonder, Bahir Dar, Wollo, Tigray, Benishangule Gumuz, Somalia region, and other places. So far, the “anarchists” seem to have the upper hand and the government seem inept to take the necessary action to take control of the regions and protect the public. We are witnessing a fertile condition for the establishment of “organized crime” looming in our nation. On the other hand, the silent majority, who are victims of these hoodlums have continued to be silent and seem to wait for a miracle and some sort of action from the government. The government itself seem powerless and it’s attempting to balance between promoting a new “political culture” and resorting to force that the government thinks will undermine the reform agenda. In the meantime, the hope that we have witnessed in June 2018 is slowly fading away. The people are tired of hearing empty promises and looking for the government to protect them. The “trigger happy” military and police force that we have been accustomed to the last 27 years does not seem to exist. Our house of worships are not engaged to be a source of solutions; our elites are too busy blaming one another and pointing their fingers at what they believe is “a common enemy” and the government.
Time and again, some of us have screamed from the top of our lungs clearly stating that the only way we can bring peace and stability to our nation is through “National Reconciliation”. No one seems to listen. A few months ago, I suggested that the opposition should use the 1993 Peace and Reconciliation Model and take the initiative for Peace and Reconciliation Conference. So far, no one is taking any meaningful steps for some kind of “National Reconciliation” to take place. We all are busy preaching to our choir and demonizing one another. It has been said that the Chinese have asked if the Ethiopians have another country; such a question is raised because we don’t seem to care to take part in seeking a solution to our multi-facet problems. We are not engaged in the political process as much as we need and we want someone else to come up with solutions. It is clear that some of our political leaders and activists have a second home and second country; but, our people in general, have only one country. It is up to us to decide to live together as brothers or perish as fools as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has said.
Often, the Social Media in our community is dominated by hatemongering Demagogues who use their time and resources preaching hate and encouraging unlawful violent actions against ethnic groups who don’t “look like them”. Our journalists are too busy taking a side and demonizing the “group” that they don’t like instead of engaging in objective and unbiased reporting, seeking solutions from our political leaders, and making them accountable when they failed to take appropriate actions. The problem we are facing is growing and it is not going to go away by itself. That seems to be the government’s approach instead of putting a plan to end the disorderly conduct we are witnessing in various parts of our country. The anarchy that we witnessed in the Somalia region has spread to Oromia, Amhara, Tigray, Benishangule, Southern regions and so on. It seems the demand and the “stronghold” of criminal elements in the country is growing. The people of Harrar are denied drinking water because some hoodlums demanded a payment to restore drinking water to the region. These hoodlums are holding the people of Harrar hostage while the Oromia Regional government, the Harrarie, Regional government, and the Federal government are doing nothing. These three governments could not even get the elders together and give them the necessary tools that could empower them to bring the much-needed solutions to the region.
I know, the TPLF/EPRDF sow ethnic division the last 27 years and it is difficult to get rid of such hateful propaganda within a few months. This to be the conventional thinking. I get it. However, we can’t always make excuses and blame the TPLF/EPRDF forever. These ethnic hatreds grew because there are people who accepted it. How do we reach these people and deprogram their thinking? Better yet, what are we doing to reverse the TPLF/EPRDF agenda that has been detrimental to our people? My problem is not what happened in the last 27 years; my problem is, no one seems to be doing anything to reverse what took place the last 27 years and curb the new challenges we are facing today. Our political leaders don’t seem to realize we are in crisis and people are losing hope. I don’t see the urgency in the government to respond to the growing lawlessness and threats in the country. We are still entertaining “gusts” and holding unnecessary political meetings. Political organizations don’t seem to communicate with their supporters and members to have some sort of control in the crisis that their own supporters initiated. We blame the youth when we are not providing them any leadership towards a better future. To say “only the children of poor Ethiopians are dying while others are inflaming conflicts” may gain some sympathy, but it is not a sound policy and not enough to deal with the problem we have. Do something about it to prevent their death instead of talking about it.
America’s bloodiest civil war did not happen overnight. It took roots in 1820 when Congress legislated the Mississippi Compromise. The war itself took place under President Lincoln watch in April 1861. Several events took place for 40 years that led to the 1861 war. President Lincoln did everything possible in his power to prevent the civil war to no avail. In the end, it took a civil war to unite the United States of America. Do we have to go to another civil war to learn secession is not the solution for our problems? There are those who claim to represent particular people and advocate certain ethnic groups to secede from Ethiopia. These groups who are promoting identity politics never cared about anyone but themselves. They want to establish a region where they can be “kings” for their lifetime. This is what we witnessed in Eritrea. If we examine all the so-called “liberation movement leaders” in various parts of Africa, many of these leaders failed to hand power to the people and continue to rule until they die or replaced by force by another dictator.
Although there were secession talks in the United State since the 1830s, the election of Abraham Lincoln as the president of the United States expedited the seven Southern States decision to secede from the United States. In his first inaugural speech, Lincoln appealed to the states that seceded. At the end of his speech, he asked his nation “Shall it be peace or the sword? Lincoln tried to avoid the civil war, but he strongly believed that it was his duty to preserve a united country. Unfortunately, the first shot was fired by the Confederate army that forced Lincoln’s hand into the war. The choice for us is the same: Shall it be peace or the sword? The choice is ours.
We have serious problems that requires immediate attention and for “cool heads” to come together and find attainable solutions. We don’t need politicians. Journalists, activists, and pseudo-intellectuals who are engaged in demonizing the group that they oppose. This will not bring a solution but ferment more conflict. What we need is “our better angels” who can provide leadership to our youth; our better angels who can organize religious leaders and elders to bring conflicting parties to the table so we can find a middle ground that unites us and compromise on things that we don’t agree with; we need our better Angels who can make us understand that every problem we have cannot be solved overnight; we need our better Angels to be our mediators; we need our better angels who can help us build bridges not walls; most of all we need the better angels of our nature to hold us together, make us care about one another, remind us that we all are here temporarily and we need to leave a better Ethiopia for the next generation, and remind us all we have is one country and it would be better for all of us to find a way to live together as brothers and sisters instead of killing each other as enemies.
We should learn from America’s civil war; the war was between brothers. We are not strangers for “a war of brothers”. We have been fighting amongst us for years. The recent Ethio-Eritrean war is a great example. Literally, brothers fought against brothers. Twenty years later, after the death of more than one hundred thousand people, and enormous economic damages, our “leaders” are telling us that they could have solved the issue, which sent youngsters to this unnecessary war, without even one shot. Regret after 20 years did not bring back the lives lost. Have we learned anything yet? What seems to be a mountain of problems today might end up being nothing after a year; hence, we need to be patient. We can’t address all our problems at the same time. Some problems take time to address. That is the reason we need to search for the Angele of our nature and gate active to solve the crisis that is debilitating our nation. We need to find our better Angels nature to go forward to establish a system of government that will allow all of us to peacefully coexist. At least, we should do our part by not following demagogues who are encouraging us to take part in violence, by not sharing “fake news” that tends to spread hate, by denouncing hate speech and ethnic-based violence, by demanding that the government do its job to protect the public without being partial. Let us all find our better Angels who could calm the violent storm approaching our nation, let us all be responsible for our action in moving forward. Let us respect and love one another regardless of our ethnicity and the region where we came from. After all, we all are God’s Children.