Saturday, February 25, 2006

Can't we all just get along?

Go Gooch! Go Gooch! USA! USA!

Hope you guys aren't getting used to erudition.
------------------------------------------------

This post was supposed to be about 'What We're Actually Lobbying For', but let me leave that for next time, if there is a next time!

Today, I'd like to reflect on Abdisa's comments about the ineffectiveness of existing Ethiopian-American organizations when it comes to mobilization and lobbying.

It's just my nature, but rather than start looking to create new and better organizations, I tend to first ask why things are the way they are. After all, what if these new organizations end up succumbing to the same problems?

Let me start with a few observations from my personal experience, and you tell me if this resonates with yours. In my time in the diaspora, I have seen few functioning and enduring Ethiopian organizations or collectives of any kind, let alone political organizations. Among those organizations that exist, I always hear the leadership complain about a 'lack of participation'. On the other hand, I hear those outside the organization complain that it is unwelcoming or inaccessible. I have seen people of good character, whose frames of reference and views on the subject matter at hand are virtually identical, end up getting in such a fight that it ends the life of their organization. I have seen whole organizations torn to shreds just because of one single 'troublemaker', leaving me to wonder how one person could break the collective spirit of many like-minded people. And I have seen these episodes repeated in various different contexts with different people.

This has led me to two conclusions, simplified as follows:

1. We have problems getting along.
2. We have problems expressing our collective will in a constructive and effective way. This explains much of the 'lack of participation'.

Though these problems are related, I'll only talk abut the second for now.

The second problem fascinates me. I like to relate it to teamwork in sports. Phil Jackson talks about something most of us who have been involved in sports intuitively know, and that is that the best teams are the ones with the best teamwork.

For good teamwork to occur, players must first fully understand that teamwork is the best way to maximize their individual returns: in sports, that would be winning, notoriety, money. Though this is a tautology, few players actually understand it. It usually takes an authoritative figure, armed with a history of success to serve as examples, to convince them.

Then, they have to understand that teamwork requires sacrifice in the form of becoming unselfish and other things. Short-term sacrifice, for long-term gain. But players are reluctant to sacrifice anything for three reasons: 1) they just want to be selfish! 2) they are still not convinced teamwork will pay off in the end, and 3) they are not sure if their teammates will make sacrifices.

Most of the time, we deal with reasons 2) and 3). And these occur most often because of the environment the players come from. They have never seen teamwork (except teamwork motivated by the most primal instincts of family and survival), let alone be part of it, so they find it hard to believe in it. Especially when it calls for immediate sacrifice, which, to them, is definitely a bad thing! And the players assume that their teammates are just like them and think in the same way, so they won't trust their teammates to carry their end of the bargain.

And so what happens is that the team never ends up running efficiently and achieving its full potential. The team remains vulnerable to other teams with much less individual talent but more teamwork. This frustrates the players, as they can't recognize why they are losing to less talented players. And even if they somehow become cognizant of this, they still have a hard time trusting each other.

So how does all this apply to Ethiopian civic groups or political organizations? Well, just as in the example above, people are reluctant to participate because participation means work - sacrifice. How can they sacrifice their time and energy when they are unsure whether the whole thing will pay off, and more importantly, when they don't trust their fellow countrymen, who have the same interests, to do the same?

This may seem like an intractable problem - the kind that requires one to pull oneself up by the bootstraps, but it is not. People do slowly learn from exposure, even people who have grown up in an environment devoid of teamwork. Various circumstances, such as the appearance of great leaders, or situations that force the issue and make it a matter of survival, can speed along this process. Like anything else, eventually, the population as a whole eventually passes some threshold of awareness.

So in the context of Ethiopian political organizations today, I think the key for those of us who have some awareness of these issues is to put our knowledge into practice and participate. I think it is obvious - it is obvious to me, at least - that a strong collective Ethiopian-American lobby would make a huge difference. Knowing this, the next step is to trust that fellow Ethiopians will make the necessary sacrifices to make this work. Even if, in the back of your mind, you don't think they will, you must go ahead anyway. That's the bootstrapping part of the solution. If everyone does the same, we'll have results.

Now, what will all this participation do to the inefficient nature of these organizations? The sheer number of committed stakeholders will automatically increase their efficiency.

Imagine if one of you joined
Kinijit DC. You think you'd be swamped with bickering and inefficiency, partially because not enough people like you have joined. But imagine if ten of you joined Kinijit DC. There you would have a critical mass of people with the awareness of the various issues I have talked about and the capability to make a change.

Now, what about forming new organizations? Well, let's look at it this way. Let's assume that when it comes to lobbying on the national stage, bigger is better, and so something like the Cuban-American National Foundation would be best. Once we have accepted that this is the best route, that is, once we have accepted that teamwork is the best route, then what we have to do is participate and trust that everyone else will.

I know I haven't discussed many of the variables that should be considered here, such as whether a small, quicker group may be more effective in the short term, or whether there are significant differences between our values and goals and those of existing organizations. Nevertheless, when it comes to Ethiopian civic and political movements, I favour working with existing organizations. From what I've seen, that's the best way to go.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Yonas said...

Great insight, fantastic post. You rock, Gooch. I want to be on your team.

12:15 PM, February 25, 2006  
Blogger kuchiye said...

Gooch!

yenen idme yichemirelih!

Not daring to shoulder marginal responsibilities that come with joining a political organization is a clear symptom of our questionable or marginal commitment to the cause. If bringing the desired change can only be attained through the medium of political parties why do we look for solutions elsewhere?

Our political parties failed to deliver despite 30+ years of support poured into them, despite opportune political moments they could have seized to alter the turn of events and despite a conducive international climate that somehow champions democratic governance and the rule of law. You and I would not have lasted three months on our jobs if we failed to deliver, would we? Why should it be any different for leaders in political parties?


The miserable failure of Ethiopia's parties did not emanate from lack of ideology or support. It was caused by lack of organization and management that met the challenge of the time. That is where any meaningful intervention should focus on.

You are right on the money about the unwelcoming or inaccessible nature of the old guards. But you also are right that we should demand and indeed help in bringing change working from inside. Joining the parties, building critical mass with like- minded is the only way to go.

The peripheral organizations mentioned like lobby groups will serve no purpose unless they have viable products to promote and sale. Let's focus our attention on making the political parties viable and respectable. If this is accomplished, membership and participation will skyrocket, governments will start to consider the parties as serious alternative to Meles and.... "ye-ithiopia tensae" will materialize in short order.

8:55 PM, February 25, 2006  
Anonymous H. Gabriel said...

Gooch:

Thanks for bringing up this very important subject matter. As can be seen from the comments we all want to do the right thing but most of us are not sure how. You suggested very direct and simple ways on how we can get involved depending on our comfort level. As you said, these are just some suggestions and others may choose to act in a different way. The key word is “act”.

You also emphasized the fact that bigger is better. That is usually the case. However, we need to think why the Cuban or Jewish umbrella organizations are more effective than say Arab American organizations. Is it a matter of resources or Jews and Cubans are more committed and united to their “cause” than Arabs? In my view, it is both. The Arab agenda is divided while the Jews and Cuban agenda is united. In Ethiopia’s case, Meles has probably done more to unite the opposition than the opposition itself. The political water was still, with maybe a wave here and there, until Meles started throwing boulders in the water. He has now initiated a Tsunami that is in motion. Nothing will stop this wave until it hit the shores of Menelik’s palace. It is just a question of when. Therefore, our effort at this time should include a strategy to minimize the damage when this huge Tsunami hit the shore. One such effort should be to have a clear, honest and principled stand on the question of nations and nationalities. We can’t just muddle through this issue.

I also want to emphasize the importance of individuals in galvanizing public opinion and more against Meles & Co. For example, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (one of the few in congress who has been actively helping us) was first exposed to the shenanigans of the TPLF by an Eritrean (Ethiopian born) surfing buddy who was trying to get appropriate compensation for his fathers nationalized spirit bottling company. Another example is the number of Ethiopians who have been actively working with conservative candidates in Canada. They went door to door and walked the walk. We are already seeing the result of their hard work. A couple of weeks ago a local Oakland, California group had a luncheon in support of Ron Dellums, who is running to be the next mayor of Oakland. Dellums, as elder statesmen of the Congressional Black Caucus, can influence many in congress as well as U.S. African policy. There are many other similar cases. The good news about the Internet is that we all get to know how our compatriots are doing all over the globe in real time. Let us not underestimate what we can do locally!

By the way, you are doing a great job of holding the fort. Keep it up!

9:39 PM, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Geja said...

Why “Can’t we all just get along?” Gooch, you must have been a professional chef as you seem to expertly peel off layer after layer, the big onion that has been our Achilles heel preventing us from a unified front in the fight to free our country from Meles and his criminal gangs.

The moment a relationship gets complicated we simply pull off saying “ere bemin edaye, ene lerase chink alchilm”. In general, we do not care for controversy and we like the simple and uncomplicated life of avoiding any commitment that is outside the traditional family circle. I knew this much about us but that is about where I stopped in trying to find out why we are so passive in nature, for example compared to other Africans. My ‘Ahha” moment of knowing our weakness came after I read your blogg. Our current master is trying to exploit this weakness for his own advantage, hoping we will be busy tearing each other’s throat. The fact that this did not happen to us so far and I really doubt that it will ever happen, makes me believe we have a very strong culture of ignoring anything divisive that comes under any pretext, be it religion or race.

If I remember correctly from a geography class by Professor Mesfin some thirty five years ago, the various Ethiopian religions, cultures, languages, regions and now professions (my own add) crisscross each other and form a Venn diagram from which Ethiopia exists in the center core. This strong gravity towards the core transcends any attempt by anyone to break us apart. And this is exactly one major unifying factor the Woyane regime is unable to fathom so far and most probably if we play our cards right, the Woyane regime’s outright downfall. This core of our existence has withstood Yodit Gudit, Mohammed Gragn, Zemene Mesafint, the Italian occupation, attempt by Great Britain to re-colonize us right after the end of the Italian occupation, the massive famine during Haile Silase’s last days, the criminal Dergue machine and now Woyane.

So now we know, thanks to Gooch, our shortcomings and the major players that keeps us from working into a unified force to free our country, then what should we do next?

It is not a shortage of brains or finance. I truly believe we Ethiopians, at least in the Diaspora have enough of both now. As Gooch’s blogg points out very succinctly, it must be something else, something like our own idiosyncrasy(s) that was built into each one of us through out our long and isolated history that turns us into untamed tigers when the enemy comes from the outside, but when it is bad governance, backwardness, famine and pestilence, we just lay on our side or attempt a lackadaisical performance and then give up for some ungodly excuse.

True, bad habits die hard, but if we are ever to win over this dark cloud of dictatorship that has been hanging over our head for so many years now, it is going to be through sheer collective action of all who profess origin to this beautiful but hapless country. We must forge a lasting and enduring relationship regardless of our profession, religion and race or whatever that is that could divide us. An unconditional unity of this kind is the only way we can move forward and relieve ourselves and our country from the butchers, marauders and genocidal killers that call themselves Woyane, well I call them bad kosso that has never been useful and now must be extricated from our system.

2:58 AM, February 26, 2006  
Blogger sokari said...

Hi - my name is Sokari and I write a blog called Black Looks. I came up with this idea for international women's day on the 8th of March as part of the African Women Blogging roundup that Mshairi (http://www.mshairi.com/blog) and I do for the GV.

I thought it would be great if each woman writes a brief piece (about 5 lines if possible) about 1 or 2 women she would like to honour/celebrate post it on their blogs. It could be your mother, friend, artists, activist, leade, from your neighbourhood, community, country or continent wide - whoever as long as they are African. Once we have responses we will know exactly how many will post on the 8th of March then Mshairi and I will do a roundup on GV of all the posts by the African women bloggers.



If you are interested in participating please contact me at:

africa at globalvoicesonline dot org

many thanks

1:57 PM, February 26, 2006  
Blogger enaseb said...

now this one fascilites dialogue gooch! i am with you on many of these fronts. i found myself kinda grimacing at the "maximizing individual returns" bit especially after dropping zenmeister phil jackson's name. then i talked myself into believing that the reasons i am in this struggle might sorta fit in there somewhere. this strain of thought brought up a rather important question for me. can we all work together even if the "returns" we are trying to "maximize" are vastly different for each "individual". the times dictate how much we must throw aside our differences and work together. what resonated with me from this peice is where you speak of us "...as a whole eventually pass(ing) some threshold of awareness." i believe we are there.

no, working for our two story houses complete with that bumpin' stereo system (hehe mama africa is never far), the fanciest threads, and a job(or two or three) where we are paid "enough" and work angentachenen eyedefan, eyenachen zegten is not enough. there actually is a reason why people get involved in politics. the ones who have shouldered that small "d" in democracy do not do so because of some unknown predisposition but instead because they have had to come right up against a reason strong enough to make them struggle within the system. for us ethiopians it simply is now time. all of us who want to see change back home know that it is our civic duty to participate in local politics and amass viable recognition. this does not simply come from clumping into a frantic group, slapping a name on it, and jumping into the face of our local representative armed with checkbooks. that might have some short-term affect but for a longlasting and viable stance in this machine(the kind neccessary to bring about and sustain the timely changes back home) we all need to roll up our sleeves and enter. we all need to realize that the personal IS the political. we all need to form alliances with groups who have had to enter this machine much earlier then us and help one another when push comes to shove.

h. gabriel,

i am in complete agreement with everthing you said except where you allude to a house divided being the reason arab organizations as being less successful then the cuban (i assume you speak of the ones who left because of fidel as opposed to the ones in cuba) and jewish (i assume you mean the pro israeli jews) organizations. i see it
differently. israel was a state intituted by england and america in the middle east for their own strategic reasons. sustaining it is a matter of "national interest" for both of them. the jews, being a persecuted peoples have had to learn how to work within the system and use this to the fullest extent. as for the "old money" cubans...well...they have a common enemy with america don't they?

12:50 AM, February 27, 2006  
Blogger bankelele said...

I think your 2nd conclusion is more accurate in that, no one agrees what the problem is - and from them on, there is no agreement on the sacrifices, steps to be taken and division of labour.

7:10 AM, February 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Cuban-American group you put as an example, is this the right-wing,conserevative,Ellian Gonzales kidnaping group? is this The bay-of-pigs Cuban-American you talking about?
Hope not
Abebech

6:22 PM, March 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where are you?

1:41 PM, March 03, 2006  
Anonymous Inde Hewan said...

Gooch,

Thanks for picking up this topic again. I don't know if you remember, but weeks back I threw in a question about which Ethiopian organisation abroad has the ability to mobilise ... and take me up as a willing and eager member. Back then you responded a bit sweepingly that none such org. exists.

So much to background. Now to this thread: I find it interesting that in all the comments on this otherwise action-oriented blog (about how to engage in collective action), nowhere is anything actionable to be seen. Not a single posting saying: "Here are 4 decent, functional diaspora organisations you can get involved in to get us from tyranny to democracy: 1 ... 2 ... 3... 4. And here is what each focuses on: x y z. And here is their contact info: A B C." Nope, instead: More **debate** about how we are or are not willing to engage in collective action.

Sorry if I sound a bit frustrated, but it is sincerely a bit maddening when finally a blog about ACTION and participation merely elicites further DEBATE about action, rather than POINTING us Ethiopians as to where and how to take collective action.

So my question of several weeks back remains as unanswered as it was then.

3:24 PM, March 03, 2006  
Anonymous te'amer asayegn said...

I feel sorry for you kids. So naive! Openly discussing strategy! Can't you learn from the enemy? It takes a few people with vision, committment and guts to start a movement, and the rest, as we say, is nebelbal. The EPRDF/TPLF must be enjoying this.

5:33 PM, March 03, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

Inde Hewan,

Sorry, I just assumed that a quick search on the Internet would do it.

I've mentioned Kinijit (www.kinijit.org) and Hebret (http://www.hebret.com) in the original post. In terms of 'nonpartisan' organizations, there's the Tegbar League (www.tegbar.org) and Advocacy Ethiopia (http://www.ethioppia.org).

These are the four that come to mind right away!

No matter which of the above I favour, I would support Kinijit as well for sure, since they've got the biggest footprint by far. Same as in Ethiopia.

te'amer asayegn,

Abro yasayen!

I'm glad you think so highly of us, but I don't think we let out any big secrets!!

Even if we were Kinijit's Board of Directors or something, we would have to keep in mind that the world is different today - even the TPLF's and PFDJ's can't keep things hidden. I think the idea is to work in a way that is, as much as possible, not dependent on the ability to keep secrets. If strategies depend on secrecy for success, then they are too vulnerable.

7:32 PM, March 03, 2006  
Anonymous Inde Hewan said...

Gooch,

You know full well that the response "google it" doesn't cut it. Didn't I tell you back in our earlier exchange a few weeks back? I called kinijit something like 3 times, each time leaving a message that I would love to contribute, and mentioning what my areas of competencies are. Nothing. Pretty hard to imagine calling, say, Amnesty International and getting an answering machine three times, none of the times getting any call back. One does ask oneself if they are interested in any free able help at all. So I am sure many would love to heed your call to go join kinijit, but that won't work if the interest level or absorbtive capacity in kinijit-USA isn't there.

Gooch, anyone can search on the net, the point was to discuss in even a few words what the various groups are about (I guess hibret and kinijit are well enough known), what their trackrecord is in terms of action-orientedness, how well they perform on the various indicators you hinted at in your blog on organisations, etc.

2:44 PM, March 04, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

inde hewan,

I think I'm in a difficult spot here, trying to represent Kinijit-NA, when I'm not even a member, let alone on the staff (I'm in Canada, where we have our own Kinijit-Canada). That's why I advise people to go right to the source.

I'll tell you what I know, if it helps, and this is all public knowledge, though perhaps not properly disseminated.

I have not phoned them, but I've emailed them in the past at the address specified on their web site, and I've received prompt and good replies. Perhaps you can try that.

I know there was a public meeting held in January in DC, at which it was agreed that a general conference would be held in - was it March or May. My memory's failing me, I'll have to check.

I know they have roadshow going throughout North America at the moment (we've had a stop here), trying to establish local chapters, thereby hopefully improving communication..., but I don't have the schedule with me.

I know they've hired Giuliani's firm to lobby for them.

That's about. What's their track record? Well, from what I know, let's put it this way, they've got a long way to go if you're comparing them with non-Ethiopian organizations. Not answering phone calls, etc., doesn't surprise me in the least. But that doesn't worry me, as my expections have long ago been adjusted.

But, they've done better than anybody else by raising huge sums of money, being more visible than anyone has ever been, and taking big steps such as hiring major league lobbyists.

How's that, Inde Hewan?

3:14 PM, March 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who are these ppl in Kinijit, Hibret, Tegbar and others? Aren't they Ethiopians just like us? Some of us have talents to organize and lead and still most of us can follow and help.

In Eastern Europe, most of the ppl that brought down USSR became invisible once the intial job was completed. (I don't like doing stuff exactly the way others did it b/c I read what that did to the leftist organizations of Ethiopia in the 1970s but I can't help being influenced by Ethiopian thinkers who were there at that time).

Birtukan Mideksa in her letter from horrible prison want us to think of Kinijit as a spirit, selflessly pointing out that Ethiopia is more important than any individual or group of individuals.

Sometimes I think of Ras Gobena Datchi's grand son Abebe Aregay, Weyzero Shewareged Gedle and Geresu Duki. Or Amoraw Wubeneh, football star Mengistu Worku's father Worku Sinke and of course Belay Zeleke and tens of thousands of patriots who didn't have any foreign examples.

I don't think it is normal for us to wait for patriots to knock on our doors if we think we have something to contribute at any level or capacity.

I think D Beyene and D Balcha did set very good examples for us. Both of them had grudges with the Emperor. Beyene was given 40 JIRAFF in public by the Emperor and Balcha was still in prison for over five years for supporting Queen Zewditu when fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia again. Beyene said to his relatives that Ethiopia was much bigger than himself or the Emperor and died in the war at Maytchew while Balcha tried to free Addis Ababa a year after fascist Italy occupied her and later died in a suicidal shootout with Italians and askaris when he could have surrendered. He was 80 years old and Mussolini himself was very interested in capturing Balcha.

"ligabaw Beyene...Tej TeTa bilut weha eyelemene...ndekora mote endetejenene..."

"Gebeyehu bimot teteka Balcha...medf agelabaCH bicha lebicha"

Who did really organize the patriots of the 1930s? They didn't have radios and cars and they certainly didn't have computers or phones. They had IT (kohones or something even Ms Shewareged and thousands of Ethiopian women of that time) what was the most important thing.

General Jagema Kello was only 14 yrs old when he joined the fight and he had 3000 strong army of his own by the time the Emperor fought his way back from the Sudan.

"kelib kaleqesu enba aygedim" yilal yagere sew.

6:26 AM, March 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My experience has been, Most “organization” (for the lack of a better word, since there is no organization with out a rule and a specific objective) that with the exception of few individuals, those who initiated it have other agenda than what they tell the people they gather. In most cases they use sentimental issues like “Ethiopiawent” “religion” “freedom from tyranny” to bring together Ethiopian and use them for their own agenda. Some are motivated for the money, others for fame and self-gratification and many, who spent most of their life in “politics of the left” use intrigue and conflict to immerge as “leaders” or the government in power use us to support its criminality.

There is one thing missing in the Ethiopian community, the rule of the game and the lack of or unwillingness to confront wrong doers straight on based on the rule and demanding the rule be respected and applying the consequences swiftly. This single weakness in our collective behavior cost us more than we can imagine.

The recent conflict in the political players is a classic example of how we failed to make individuals accountable. The struggle to free Ethiopia from tyranny is hijacked by a few, whose background is not known. If there were a rule of laws, these parasites would have been filtered out long ago for us to go forward.

I would suggest your blog or any other media would do us a favor to demand from every one the governing by-law of every organization and expose those who do not follow the rule. Applying that single duty and responsibility of the media can save us from many obstacles we faced here and in the country.

We shall overcome

Kinjit strggle will contnue after house cleaning.

11:26 AM, November 15, 2006  

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