Thursday, October 19, 2006

How do you ask another generation to heal?

This was a massacre.”


A draft of the [inquiry into the June and November killings] obtained by AP says that among those killed were 40 teenagers, including a boy and a girl, both 14, who were shot.

"Old men were killed while in their homes, and children were also victims of the attack while playing in the garden."

A new generation of Ethiopians now bears the scars of a massacre.

My father and I have been exchanging emails and old fashioned letters about what’s been happening in Ethiopia, especially the responsibilities of our respective generations.

With his permission… (translation of Amharic mine.)

Daughter,

Perhaps you undervalue what you call your “rose-tinted glasses.” I may not have left you much, but I hope eventually you will see the value of those glasses and the prism with which they enable you to see Ethiopia.

Yes, indeed, we chose exile. But in many ways exile was imposed upon us. That meant depriving you of a childhood and adulthood in Ethiopia. How do I give you that back? The Ethiopia I grew up in and adored was not a perfect Ethiopia, but I never saw soldiers dragging children from their warm beds and shoot them in front of their mothers. When you see that, child, when you see that you want your children never to see it.

The Ethiopia we left behind was not the Ethiopia I knew. I never talked to you about those days because it was not the Ethiopia I wanted you to know.

The thought I would be raising my children in a foreign land had never crossed my mind. You see, I am indebted to Ethiopia: for the education she afforded me, and for the high expectation she had for me and for my colleagues to succeed even under the harsh circumstances of a segregated United States. We couldn’t wait to go back to Ethiopia to serve our country. I wish I could explain to you the air of enthusiasm and optimism at that time. I ask now, will your generation ever experience that kind of euphoria, even if it is fleeting? We felt so powerful. We knew our destiny. We had what is visceral and God-given: ownership of Ethiopia.

Though your mother and I have many regrets, we don’t regret sheltering you from the Ethiopia of the 70s. "Every generation has the potential to be great." Do you remember when we read that together? Mine, I thought, was to protect yours from an Ethiopia that ate her young. It was an unfortunate assignment, far different from what we thought was our calling. But someone had to stop the hemorrhaging, both spiritual and physical—a task we were ill-equipped to handle, admittedly.

Your mother and I wanted you to love the Ethiopia you never got a chance to know. For that, we had to hide what we thought would harm your nascent sense of identity.

As for what you think your generation’s responsibility is, well, whatever it is you decide it to be, I hope it involves paying back our debt to this country. It is a debt you don’t deserve to shoulder, granted. But my hope and prayer is that, despite our clumsy implementation, we have paved a road (no matter how bumpy) that will lead you, your siblings and children back to Ethiopia. If you continue to see what is good about Ethiopia, what is worth fighting for, what is worth preserving, then I think I have done my job. I like what you write when you say, “Ethiopia is much more than politics.” It is true although it gets difficult to see these days.

I pray to God you will always love this country, even with all its wretchedness and melancholy.

You are always in my thoughts, daughter.

Your father,

We thought our parents had stopped the hemorrhaging, but the EPRDF has managed to inflict a series of new horrors on a new generation. So here we are, again, sons and daughters of people who somehow survived what Mengistu did to Ethiopia, freshly wounded by a government bent on carving its brand of terror in our psyche.

What do we tell our children? Most importantly, what do Ato Meles and his supporters tell their children? Fast becoming a sad footnote in Ethiopian history, the EPRDF is busy destroying an Ethiopia it could never bring itself to love.

What happened last June and November were massacres. Ethiopians knew it. Tony Blair knew it, Jimmy Carter knew it, and the State Department knew it.

Now, the world knows it.

23 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have great parents who want you to be different from the silent majority.

7:36 AM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your father's letter touching. My parents also chose exile, and I have also heard my parents say similar things as your father has expressed to you. Yet, in talking to my parents over the years a number of questions have come up that trouble the narrative I was led to believe about them, Ethiopia, and their relation to Ethiopia.

As such, I was struck by your father's notion that he viscerally understood that he owned Ethiopia.In my own visits back home I have had to ask myself how many Ethiopians have ever felt they could control their destiny (nationally and individually) in the way our father's gereration felt?

So the question remains on what is this sense of entitlement based, who granted my father or your father ownership over Ethiopia? What is the history of violence that led to such an elite version of nationalism? Isn't the entitlement my father felt based on a class staus that is inherently hierarchical and exclusionary? And of course, in travels back home I have had to admit that there were victims back then as much as there are victims today. However, another thing I have had to admit is that my parents sense of entitlement came from a false arrogance about who they were in the world but also who Ethiopia was in the world. That arrogance (which often comes in the guise of a false humility) does lie at the root of much of Ethiopia's problems. We need to admit this.

Today, I therefore read the last 30 years of Ethiopian politics as less about our country sinking into barbarism and more about elite competition to enforce one version of what it means to be Ethiopian as opposed to another. But this is why politics in Ethiopia ends up being such a zero sum game. In the end, on all sides, it has little to do with democratic capacity building.

For me, then, it seems that rather than saying one elite vision is better than another elite vision of Ethiopia, it would be better if we could all own our culpability in making the majority of Ethiopians victims to our more than elitist visions of what the country should be.

Ethiopians have come to believe that democracy is about voting, but substantivally democracy also means an institutional culuture that fosters eqaulity before a law that is collectively made. But how can such equality be delivered when for the most part, elites are incapable of admitting that elites inevitably have their vcitims. As such in Ethiopia, we cannot even have a modicum of elite compromise (which after all is the essence of liberal democracy).

As an aside, I will also tell you that when I try to explain my biography to other Ethiopians, unless they belong to my class they find my story bewildering. They ask, ehy at such a young age have I lived in so many countries, attained this education, hang out with varied farenjis, etc, etc. They do not even understand the mannerisms that are particular to the 1% of people who are of the same class and background as I.

Peace,
Herut.

12:00 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous Zer Tihun said...

God bless your heart, Hirut.

12:30 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Herut,

From my own experience, I think our parent's feeling of ownership came from the education they have been afforded - and it is not a sense of individual ownership but a collective one. That generation felt that its role was no longer bureaucratic as had been the role of those educated in the 1950s. I imagine that the son of a Dejazmach that wasn't educated did not feel the same ownership as say my parents did or perhaps your own. Indeed if you are arguing that education created a new elite, that is inescapable - that is the whole point of education.

In fact, those educated in the 1960s and 1970s in Europe and the US went back with notions of equality and a sense that their country's ills lay in the institutions of entitlement. The student movement in Ethiopia led the charge with "Meret Larashu" -Land to the Tiller- deconstructing the very institutions of traditional elitism. Many that pushed this very cause, stood to lose their guaranteed entitlement as children of land owners. I fail to see in what sense this is an elitist competition?

12:55 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous ye mankussaw welafen said...

It may be the entrenched Mengistu/Marxist syndrome that makes us misunderstand what elitism is, and what makes us dismiss it without deeper analysis. Elitism based on meritocracy is something to aspire towards. As ETW’s father said it was not a perfect Ethiopia, but a lot of children of farmers were also sent to school on scholarships. (Mine included.) Prominent Ethiopian diplomats (Ketema Yifru etc) came without pedigree, yet they ended up scaling the ladder. But we slap “elitist” as if that’s the end all, and then as if to put an exclamation point on our visceral aversion we deride their “sense of entitlement.”

1:56 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous dube said...

I wonder what kind of letter Mengistu would write to his daughters about the exact time frame.

2:19 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous kezira said...

who granted my father or your father ownership over Ethiopia?

innit 'elitist' to think that only elities feel a sense of "ownership" of ethiopia? you haven't seen the ferocity with which farmers in the tiniest villages talk about "emiye topiya".

anyway, i have attached the NYT, WaPo articles and sent another letter to Hastert's office and a few of his constituents basically saying that this is the government Hastert is excusing. i've also sent comments to nyt and WaPo.

reclaiming my ownership,
kezira

3:29 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous not anonymous said...

The way I see it, Heirut, the inherently contradictory nature of Ethiopiawinet is that it means the same thing to a variety of dissimilar groups across the entire spectrum of our society. If proof was ever needed that Ethiopiawinet is a dynamic that transcends class and every other consideration, (ethnic, religious, gender) election-05 provided it. Much to the dismay of the EPRDF, election-05 was the occasion, in which Ethiopians from all walks of life defied the prevailing wisdom that National Identity (Ethiopiawinet) had fallen victim to the 15-year onslaught of vicious attacks that had been unleashed against it. (The EPRDF could have sworn it had killed Ethiopiawinet, right Kezira?)

It’s worth noting that when the spirit of Ethiopiawinet reared its head at the first available opportunity in the course of the election, it was by no means confined to a small group of priviledged elites. In fact, if any one segment, motivated by material incentives, did equivocate in its support of Ethiopiawinet during election-05, it was the priviledged class.

It would seem that the great majority of Ethiopians, living lives of poverty and deprivation, would place their common aspirations above the issue of National Identity and vote accrodingly, but they did not. That, I would think would point up the truth that the “ownership” of Ethiopiawinet is hardly the exclusionary priviledge of an educated class bound by a general mindset of arrogance or “a sense of entitlement.”

Ultimately, the question as to who grants someone the “ownership of Ethiopia(winet)” is not one that lends itself to easy answers. Perhaps, we can agree that Ethiopiawinet is a “visceral and God-given” trait, a subjective (intrinsic) quality that each individual has a right to define (or not define) himself/herself by. That, I suppose would make Ethiopiawinet not a right, and certainly not an obligation, but a privilege that one may or may not exercise.

3:42 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

It seems to me that compared with other societies, Ethiopian upper classes are thoroughly unwashed. A member of the aristocracy can barely trace their ancestry back a handful of generations, and you don't have to go back far before you run into peasantry in the bloodlines. The petit-bourgeouise, having just cropped up last century via HSI, have no pedigree to speak of!

In the old days, anyone could aspire to be a 'ras', if they managed to distinguish themselves in battle, and there were endless opportunities. Likewise, a member of the aristocracy could sooner find himself destitute. The classes were weakly defined and class mobility was common. It was in large part, like much of sub-Saharan Africa, the law of the jungle.

In other more developed societies, class, like all other institutions, was well established and entrenched. Class mobility was almost unheard of.

So IMHO, the concepts of feudalism and class have limited application in Ethiopia.

I do think that ethnicity, sub-ethnicity,..., far outweighs class, as it does in the rest of Africa. These are fundamentally parochial societies where the concept of class is weak but ethnicity is second-nature.

4:47 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Change of name and change of religion was not the norm to your fathers' ear?


What about the massacres in the many villages and cities even before Dergue?


ETW
Your father's Ethiopia is the part of Ethiopia he knows not the vast majority of Ethiopians know who were maimed and suffering during his as well.

"The Ethiopia I grew up in and adored was not a perfect Ethiopia," True

"but I never saw soldiers dragging children from their warm beds and shoot them in front of their mothers." Not True to the majority.


Herut,
Very close. Bless you.

7:37 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Herut, and I have enjoyed reading the comments to my comment. I would like to respond to them. I hope the owner of this blog does not mind, and I promise never to take up this much space again! But I am too lazy to have my own blog.

In any case I was struck by what "not anonymous" wrote, I quote: "It’s worth noting that when the spirit of Ethiopiawinet reared its head at the first available opportunity in the course of the election, it was by no means confined to a small group of priviledged elites. In fact, if any one segment, motivated by material incentives, did equivocate in its support of Ethiopiawinet during election-05, it was the privileged class."

I actually feel that this this latter sentence expresses clearly what I was trying to get at. Modern Ethiopia has a history whereby the elites classes spend their time equivocating their vision of what Ethiopia should be with Ethiopiawinet. As such they consume a lot of Ethiopia's resources fighting, in a rather idealist fashion, over which vision of politics is best suited for Ethiopia. Thus, whether the elitist group is a so called Marxist, federalist, secessionists or what have you, Ethiopia has been dominated by a vangaurdists form of politics.

It is also my feeling that vanguardism is in fact an accurate description for the political leadership in Ethiopia for at least the past 50 years. And I do believe that I can lay a lot of blame for intensifying and even formalising vangaurd politics in Ethiopia on my parent's generation .

Thus what I am suggesting is that because of the unique historical conjuncture Ethiopia was at from the 1950 onwards until 1974, our parents generation, in fact, had a window of opportunity through which to engage Ethiopia's problems and work out some fairly pragmatic issues so that Ethiopian communities could reproduce themselves in a more healthy manner. This would have involved imparting and sharing education with ordinary folks (an action that was far from guaranteed, even if some of our parents were from ordinary backgrounds). As such our parents failed to engage in serious democratic capacity building from the village up. Indeed, for the most part they attempted to have an extremely top down version of development (and their children continue to do this). But development without capacity building looks luxiorous and deceitful for those being developed, and can only lead to resentment.

So, of course it is good that people were educated, and of course some people who are more trained than others know more than others. But what this means is that the educated have work to do so as to share their knowledge. But elites in Ethiopia have been more concerned about leading people than sharing.

As such, in Ethiopia, our modern malaise is that a vangaurdist politics was chosen and has set a kind of foundational tone to all subsequent events. And this is why I also say that politics in Ethiopia has focused too much on capturing the state, and as such is dominated by elite competition. The flipside of this is that Ethiopian poltics takes on a rather gossipy tone.How is it that everyone (the players) seems to know everyone (all the other players) in a counrty of 70 million? Is it because the players are so few in mumber?

Ethiopia is indeed more than politics, but in a country as poor as ours when politics is focused so much on capturing the state, too much is at stake and a 1000 fissures are inevitable.

I do not mean to be divisive. We need our own truth and reconciliation but that starts with sharing culpability. No?

Sincerely,
Herut.

10:14 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ETW,

May I suggest you read your father’s letter again – this time, seeking to listen to what he wants to tell you, not reading into the letter what you want to hear.

7:58 AM, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous ye mankussaw welafen said...

i am lost. first we were indicting our fathers for feeling a sense of ownership of ethiopia because they were elitists. now we think "... elites in Ethiopia have been more concerned about leading people than sharing. forgetting the trampoline leap in logic there, good leaders lead; they leave the sharing to therapists. (personally i glad emiye menelik lead the war and not shared it.)

silliness aside, theirs was the first generation of educated ethiopians that introduced the idea of meritocracy to a society entrenched in fluid class system. unfortunately, they were cut down before the whole experiment played out.

we should choose our elities more carefully, otherwise we keep getting intellectual pygmies and warlords who fire university teachers because they don't like 'the color of their eyes.'

just sharing.

8:06 AM, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Herut, bless you again.


You summarized in few words what we are missing for the last 50 years.

"Ethiopia is indeed more than politics, but in a country as poor as ours when politics is focused so much on capturing the state, too much is at stake and a 1000 fissures are inevitable."Herut


Our brightest and energetic submerged themselves deep in politics, therefore you better start your own blog for the sake of the unfortunate. Your potential seems promising for a broader outlook.


ETW
Addicted to your writing skill and also reminding me of our hoya hoye period of EPRP extremism with different tone and ideology.

Cheers

9:19 AM, October 20, 2006  
Blogger Honest too said...

I do not understand the two anonymous' posts. Are you trying to tell ETW, that she is not supposed to talk about the woes of our people because she happens to be a daughter of educated parents??? Or that it is not the calling of the educated nor their responsibility to try and better the lives of the people that have given them so much? Are you therefore saying that the fact that 2/3 of the current Ethiopian parliament have no high school education is better for Ethiopia? Wouldn't Ethiopia be better served having men and women of high caliber who have the understanding of the world today and who care for their country as leaders?

Should we all keep quiet about the atrocities being committed on our people to stroke some egos and make a few dozen rich?

What ETW is doing is something that should be commended, she has chosen to talk about the ills of our country instead of doing nothing about it.

10:18 AM, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous maleda said...

""The Ethiopia I grew up in and adored was not a perfect Ethiopia," True

"but I never saw soldiers dragging children from their warm beds and shoot them in front of their mothers." Not True to the majority.
>>>

So what?

12:40 PM, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Herut for the enlightening posts. You should get a blog and blog it on.

i am in agreement about democractic capacity building from the bottom up rather than handing them down from the vanguardist politicians, sadly ETW included.

Enough with the denials already and go learn from your children. pragmatism is seriously lacking among the self apointed know-it- all's.

thank you for refusing to set standards up to the shoulder for the 'others' and down to the ankle for 'us' although it is done in such an inconspicuous way.

Enough with the bullshit. ETW have an honest discussion with this Herut. She seems really fly.

3:54 PM, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You father sounds so much like mine. Their social class grew up in a younger, gentler and more noble era that existed very briefly in the 50s to 70s. Even than, Ethiopia was far from ideal for many. Still it was probably a much more gracious time than. A period when young dashing Ethiopian men caught the first flight out of the US upon graduation.

I envy the life they had, and what we have lost.


Safiya

4:37 PM, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

from anonymous to
"So what?" maleda,

Herut summarized in brief:

"Ethiopia is indeed more than politics, but in a country as poor as ours when politics is focused so much on capturing the state, too much is at stake and a 1000 fissures are inevitable."Herut

Struggle for change did not start from TPLF/EPRDF or Dergue time. The suffering of Ethiopian people was worst than the above 2 regimes.


honest too,
Far from criticising ETW or others, all part of the whole. It is a matter of focus and engagement in one area, generation after generation. Beside politics, "is Ethiopia more than politics?".


On a different note, is "the elected CUD/Kinijit" solution for the ailment? The leaders of CUD/Kinijit might even turn out to be other monosters! As a matter of perspective, Herut hit the point at least to my understanding.


Cheers

4:41 PM, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous Yohannes said...

Is "the elected CUD/Kinijit" solution for the ailment? The leaders of CUD/Kinijit might even turn out to be other monosters!

Didn't you see that coming from a mile away? Yep-yep.

You can take the fara out of faradise, but the faradise is deeply entrenched. As long as we are being encouraged to be honest here, people should deal with their daddy issues without dragging (and cynically using) the downtrodden in the equation.

Democarcy should not be an up/down institution?? That's so "paradigm shift." WHERE in the history of democracy has it started as a down/up concept? We live in the greatest democracy on earth. The signatories of the Declaration of Independence were 56 white, intellectual men- (ooh, elities), some of them slave owners.

This knee jerk inferiority complex is still alive because the deeply set Marxian theories that has brainwashed my generation (those of us who lived through EPRP, MEISON, Derg)while teetering, is still alive. HIM did nothing more henious to to the poor than Derg and especially TPLF have/are doing. Hard pill to swallow, but take a deep gulp. Listen with reverence to Teddy Afro's song about Haile Selassie.

'Monosters! Just monosters!'

Wow. Been a long time, ETW. Hope I don't get the 3rd annual STFU award.

-Yohannes

5:28 PM, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ETW

Was expecting your piece in the comment section. Is it a fara expectation?


Cheers

6:44 PM, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous herut said...

Yohannes wrote: "Democarcy should not be an up/down institution?? That's so "paradigm shift." WHERE in the history of democracy has it started as a down/up concept? We live in the greatest democracy on earth. The signatories of the Declaration of Independence were 56 white, intellectual men- (ooh, elities), some of them slave owners."

My question to yohannes: do you think democracy is a set of values and practices that were granted to humans from above and then allowed to trickle down to the masses? If we can agree that democracy in its various forms is made by humans then we should as such assume that it has a history. But, the nature of history is that it involves human struggle, and as such it involves an up/down shift between various constituencies and interests. Thus American democracy was born of the American revolution. It was later renewed by both the civil war and the New Deal--both of which were solved through compromises between various groups in society, some of whom were elites but many who were union activists, workers and yes, some were even marxists. More importantly, American democracy itself was inspired by France, and France's very complicated revolutions. So we can see from our examples that democracy cannot be described as a set of fixed ideals and principles but are human institutions produced by human struggle. From our examples we can also see that human struggles can of course be solved when people on the ground listen to each other, but also when, afer putting their interests on the table institutional compromises are made. Of course any basic historian of democracy knows this to be the history. It cannot be anything else. Thus we might say that the role educated people might play in a struggle is to link local needs with broader social goals and institutions, and to other struggles in the world so that solutions can be arrived at. But this would invlove a lot more grassroots work that Ethiopian elites have been willing to do. Moreover, this should done as a collective enterprise so that people can have a perspective on where they need to go, what to demand and how to demand things. So, my point is not to dismiss human struggle, rather I wish to highlight that when one group in the community confuses itself with society as a whole as if democracy is about about having their vision trickle down to the rest of the populace then we have a form of attempted dictatorship. Perhaps you should reread your Rousseau if you do not get my meaning?

By the way your rather naive use of Frued to suggest that I have Daddy issues was in bad faith, don't you think?

Sincerely once more,
Herut

5:36 PM, October 21, 2006  
Anonymous Yohannes said...

And thus the difference between the intellectuals of the 50s and the 'intellectuals' of the 70s.

Herut, good luck. Your reasoning is steeped in the kind of teflon that seems to be impenetrable by logic. If I dare say, it is thinking that made possible the late 70s situation in Ethiopia. You go from one reflexive reaction to "ownership" of Ethiopia, to a top/down paradigm that is straight out of debunked leftist theory.

We need leaders in Ethiopia who don't want to lead because they want to "free" the downtrodden, but because they themselves want to be free men and women. I think our parents understood that. This is the fundemental difference between us and them... we wanted to tear down palaces without knowing how to build houses.

Ye mankusaw welafen said it well when he tried to explain to you elitism based on "meritocracy."

Hopefully you can eventually come to terms with what you think were the ills your father/Wonq's father imposed on Ethiopia.

To the person who said we have to have an honest assessment of our culpability, try having that discussion with any current EPRP member. It is very hard to get them to be self reflective about their role. So that cuts both ways.

Again, good luck. Our approach to better Ethiopia might be different, but I don't doubt you have good intentions.

8:36 PM, October 23, 2006  

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