First off, I cannot write enough sycophantic prose about the band Death Cab for Cutie.
They are the freshest thing to come out of the alternative scene in years! Years! Maybe I like them because they remind me of the first time I heard Kurt Cobain. Remember them days? Good times. (You can catch DCC on Comedy Central’s Last Laugh 05
, which is the best year-end round up next to Esquire’s “Dubious Achievements”.)
Quickly… thank you for the people at Tayetu
for putting together the Teddy Afro interview on VOA. This is a must listen. ... catch Dr. Ruth Simmons, president of Brown, on Charlie Rose. That woman is the kind of woman I have no chance in hell of ever becoming… astounding, astounding woman… speaking of hell, there will be a special place in it for the dimwits who cancelled Arrested Development
. But maybe Dave Chappelle
coming back for a third season will take the zing out of that sting. And that’s it for entertainment news.
So the big debate around some circles has been what the role of the Ethiopian Diaspora has been/should be in these trying times…
And like a beacon of light on a foggy night, guiding the mothership safely to shore, the answer came in the form of two Ethiopian Harvardites who organized a panel at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. (The video link I have is dead… if anyone has it handy...?)
The entire thing was extraordinary, especially the number of people it attracted. Especially impressive was one Yitayew Alemayehu Taye, a “PhD Candidate in Law, Policy and Society at Northeastern and MALD candidate at the Fletcher School” (a mouthful, I know), who sprinkled his speech with philosophy and stressed how each one of us is responsible for change in Ethiopia. I am in like with him. In fact, someone wrap him up in glittery paper and stick a bow on his head. Christmas has come early for us Diasporans. And the way one Dr. Meqdes Mesfin answered a question on why the opposition can’t be happy with the seats it got was nothing short of sublime. To paraphrase: it is not about the number of seats, it is about the process of democracy being high jacked.
The thing that made the whole thing impressive though was that it was conceived and executed by Ethiopians. We usually wait for someone else to do all the work for us and then vilify. But those days seem to be over. This panel was a signal most of us have been waiting for: if change is to happen, we have to initiate it. The large demonstration in Washington on November 19 has perhaps spawned a whole new movement in the Diaspora.
From the little I can gauge, people who never before touched Ethiopia politics with the tips of their fingers are saying “enough of this bullshit.” They are successful in their own rights (investment bankers, doctors, writers, lawyers etc) who have finally awoken. They are moderates and pragmatists, but, and this might not bode well for the EPRDF, they are the biggest pains in the asses when they latch on to a cause. They are connected, diligent and efficient and they have found their voice.
Like all groups, there is a fringe element in the Ethiopian Diaspora, not unlike the blanket men haters in feminism… the “no blood for oil” drama queens in the American left, and the “God hates everyone but me” religious nuts in the Republican Party. I find nothing more annoying than radicalism in any movement, although it is radicals who usually get the momentum going. The trouble is radicals never know when they have worn out their welcome. And the minute they smell the miasma of power they get unglued. Tragically, moderates don’t have the stamina to stand up to radicals—as you can see with the EPRDF.
Radicalism makes one irrational and unreceptive to intellectual discourse. The appalling way some in the Diaspora treated uber bean counter and not engineer Berhanu Nega is an example of a Diaspora drunk with “kingmaker complex.” I think there are some of us who still think that churning vitriol with Western PhD sticks excusably turns our venom to creamy, delicious butter. Please.
Thankfully the learning curve was brief. And here I don’t absolve people like me either, the Almaz-Come-Latelys who had lived in a virtual cocoon until May 2005. (And me with a brief dip in the pool of ephemeral hope back in the 1990s when I bought the whole “renaissance leaders” bullshit.) Sure we supported causes here and there, but our contribution to Ethiopia’s well being didn’t go deeper than writing a check. Our silence has contributed much to the disarray, and we have to own up to that.
But past the pity party and self flagellation, the progress is encouraging. The EPRDF and Ato Meles have no idea what they unleashed. They thought people wouldn’t be morally outraged by a government that has the unmitigated gall to justify the pumping of bullets into an unarmed crowd as a way of “furthering democracy.” They thought the majority of Diasporans could be placated as long as once a year it could flood Addis Abeba with Western currency and spend Christmas sipping 15 Birr beers. (By the way I never got that about us when we go back home on vacation. Why the hell anyone from America would want to troll around Addis Sheraton as if there aren’t enough hotels and nightclubs right here is something I will never understand. It is so ridiculous.)
What the EPRDF didn’t count on was for the silent majority to start speaking.
It is common knowledge that you are halfway to winning an argument if you control the agenda and define the parameters of the argument. Like most things that require actual thought, however, the EPRDF’s spin on matters scholarly is almost always unyieldingly clumsy. That is none clearer than in its sad effort to define the Ethiopian Diaspora.
I don’t know if you are aware of it, but there is yet another “the aftermath of the Ethiopian elections” innernetz
pissing contest, this one between one Professor Clapham of Cambridge and someone named Paul Henze. Clapham wrote a Comment on the Crises
, which prompted the Henze fellow to comment on the comments. In between, a beleaguered EPRDF official (are any other types?), one Tekeda Alemu, bless his heart, suffered though a blithely written response to Calpham which read like a really, really
bad term paper. (Note to Ato Takeda: I beg you, benatot
, not to write a response to the responses before I give you a couple of pointers on how to address opinionated ferenjies
So anyway, here is an interesting quote that the Henze fellow wrote about those of us in the Diaspora:
You underestimate the pernicious role of the diaspora, especially the diaspora
in Washington DC and other parts of the United States. These people are
not only, for the most part, strongly oriented toward traditional
Amhara-Centrist concepts of Ethiopia; they are also heavily infiltrated by Derg
Aww. Cute. Not as pithy as Jeffrey Sachs’ “they are remnant revanchists of an Imperial/Derg past” you understand, but cute in its own way. I had to Google Mr. Henze since I had never head of him and stopped after reading an insipid interview he
gave to Addis Tribune after the Tribunal rendered its decision on the Ethio-Eritrean border.
Q: The commission of wise men [oh, lord] meeting in The Hague presented its
decision to both governments on 13 April 2002. They came out entirely in
favor of Ethiopia's position. Do you feel this was just?
Indeed I do. The decision was a remarkable demonstration of justice and
recognition of the facts of the situation. The decision was based on long,
meticulous study of the history of this border. They seem also to have
taken into account the recent history of the problem.
Uh. This was on April 24, 2002 which gave Monsieur
Henze ample time to, I dunno…maybe read
the decision on the demarcation? But why? Several thousand people died in the war, sure. But it is so much easier to read off of EPRDF’s talking points that to actually read the damn report. It turned out that Badme, the flashpoint of Ato Meles’ and Ato Isayas’ War of the Elevated Testosterones was “awarded” to Eritrea. It might be a matter of Henze not having actually bothered to read the decision, or, he read it, understood it but decided to be a willing shill for the EPRDF. Either way, that makes him irredeemably marginalized in my book, and I am not sure why he is still writing about Ethiopia.
This reminds me of one of my favorite stories my colleague loves to tell. His, um, friend’s client, Madame X, was one of those absurdly wealthy California women who was on her starter marriage. She found out that her husband was a lyin’, cheatin’ lowlife and wanted to take him to the cleaners. (Not particularly important to the story but interesting fact: Madame X, true to all clichés, had met her lyin’, cheatin’ husband while he was lyin’ cheatin’ on his
third wife with
her.) Anyway, Madame X’s husband, a seasoned veteran when it comes to divorce, had all the top divorce lawyers in our busy town on retainer so by the time Madame X stormed into my colleagues’ friends’ office, she was justifiably rancorous. “I don’t care that he has a mistress,” she huffed. “They all have mistresses. But I’ll be damned if I become the laughing stock at the Club because he was too goddamned inconsiderate not to have a proper mistress. He has a whore
So, I’m not saying that the EPRDF should not have a ferenjie
spokesperson. Not at all. All I’m saying that the EPRDF needs to upgrade to a mistress. That’s all. And if you don’t believe me read on as Henze spouts lazy absurdities in stentorian tones. Clear your eardrums, boys and girls.
They [us, in the Diaspora] are looking backward, not forward. They are engagingOf course
in scurrilous efforts to harass and denigrate all elements who do not agree with
them--particularly Tigrayans, of course, but also others.
? Whazzap with the “of course”?
The US Government, fortunately, has been largely immune to their pressures, but
they are agitating among Congressmen (never too difficult a task) to force the
Administration to undertake punitive measures against Ethiopia which can only
damage its economy and prospects for development and drive the EPRDF further
Did Henze just insult the House of Representatives of these great United States? Is he saying its elected officials are easily agitate-able? By backward-looking Amhara centrists, none the less? Oooh. And really, does the EPRDF need any reason to be perpetually intransigent? Really? Is it being provoked again
into killing Ethiopians and setting up death camps by the big, bad Diaspora?
Not that facts matter here, but actually,
Now, you have seen here in the United States the largest demonstration by
Ethiopian Americans and Ethiopians live in the United States. That was good. We
praise them. We support them. Why? Because they are giving their views and also
they are asking the United States to reassess, then continue. They help us to
look at how we can make things better. That is what we expect. That is what we
demand. We want to have the ability to work with the Diaspora in close
conversation. We talk with them in a daily basis. We also talk with the
oppositions in Ethiopia and the family members of those who have been arrested. We are in daily contact with all of them, as well as with the
That would be Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Donald Yamamoto
on November 5.
In addition to local consultations being organized by the Country Director inPaul Wolfowitz,
Ethiopia, I have asked Mr. Gobind Nankani, our Vice President for Africa, to
organize a consultation with your organization [CUD], and other diaspora groups
in the Washington DC area. We look forward to a constructive dialogue on how to ensure successful development outcomes for all Ethiopians.
President, World Bank, November 28, 2005
The sad thing is, Henze was probably heralded as “a true friend of Ethiopia” for that piece of ridiculousness on Ethiopia "winning" Badme, and I am sure if I had the stomach to Google him further that his opinions were widely quoted ad nauseum
by those of us in the Diaspora… much like Clapham is being quoted now. When will we learn to depend on our own selves?
If the EPRDF thinks all we are doing is the relatively, um, easy task of agitating congressmen and women, then I have a Cuban Diaspora to sell it. The rally around HR 4423, to me, is about the Diaspora finding its voice. Ethiopian-Americans who had not even bothered to vote in the last presidential election are now on a first-name basis with their congressmen and senators. 2006 is mid-term elections, and I humbly predict that Ethiopians will be letting their voices be heard. This mobilization of Ethiopians is at the grassroots level, which makes it have the potential to be powerful. Congressmen and Senators listen to their constituents, and once the ball gets rolling on that front, lobbying the executive body is relatively easy. Ethiopians are taking note of not just supporters of HR4423, but opponents and those who want to water it down. “Name and shame” as one of the panelists at the Harvard talk said. “Name and shame” works in America, where leaders are concerned about their legacies. That’s what the EPRDF does not understand: most people have a threshold for shame.
So, no. The US government has not been immune to Diaspora pressure. Perhaps someone should tell the EPRDF that. But, rock on.
But the best part of the Henze heave… wait for it…
They are also taking advantage of the large component of Ethiopians who work in
the World Bank (many of them former officials of the HSI government) to press
for lessening of World Bank support for Ethiopia.
Those damn imperial revanchists. They are everywhere
The EPRDF has been futilely trying to sell the concept that those who say anything against it are intrinsically pro-Derg. Yeah sure. If we in the Diaspora wanted a bloodletting, vindictive and callous government, wouldn’t we be... pro
The encouraging thing is that all this Diaspora movement has been roused by individual efforts, stealth operators who are networked by themselves. Imagine the avalanche once there is a bone fide
political action committee.
So back to the question: What is the role of Diasporan Ethiopians? To me it is to tell the story. Period. It is not to legislate Ethiopia from thousands of miles away. It is not to dictate the manifestos of the opposition. And it is certainly not to be kingmakers. Those of us who have shamefully skirted our responsibility so far can’t think we can make up for that transgression by swinging to the other side of the pendulum and be shrill adversaries. And... lest we forget, we owe a hell of a lot to those who paved the way for us, and were doing Ethiopian politics when Ethiopian politics was not cool.
The thing is, if we don’t start defining who we are, someone else will do it for us. And once we are defined by anyone other than ourselves, we’ve lost the battle.
Two students at Harvard, once upon a time, helped the silent Ethiopian Diaspora find its voice. Hundreds will follow.
(Note: when I refer to the “Ethiopian Diaspora” here, of course I mean those of us in the States. I used it for expediency and not because I am an authority on all Diaspora. Shit. I don’t even have authority in my own damn household about the Diaspora. I will leave the others in Europe and Africa to define themselves.)
I have been meaning to update the “New Blogs” section:Enset
: Dug up an interview with Berhanu NegaRedeem Ethiopia
: Has well-written analysisOne Ethiopia
: “a log of the lonely thoughts of a man who has grown old in a foreign land” is beautifully writtenAqumada
: continues to be brilliant, and, alright alright I owe Wegesha a response. And the love and respect is still there. Always will be.