Ethiopia – We are infected by a virus, the cure is Unity
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Ethiopia – We are infected by a virus, the cure is Unity

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January 27, 2007

We must realize that we are infected by a widely spreading virus which requires one shot to cure–that shot is our UNITY – By Obang Metho, January 27, 2007

What lessons have we Ethiopians learned in 2006? Perhaps more than we realize! I will start with myself.

As you all know, I, Obang Metho, am not a member of any political party. As I have said it many times, party membership is not my intention, neither is it the intention of our organization, the Anuak Justice Council. However, some people may wonder why the AJC speaks regularly about the political situation in Ethiopia. It is because the reason for our formation resulted from the massacre and other human rights violations directed at the Anuak people by the current TPLF government. We came to the realization that until the system of brutality established by the central government in Addis Ababa changed, the crisis threatening the survival of the Anuak would not be resolved.

As we learned that others across the country were experiencing the same kind of suffering as the Anuak, it became even more apparent that it was not an isolated problem, but one that encompassed most Ethiopians. To bring a halt to such terror would require a joint effort. The suffering could no longer be separated by ethnic groups. The suffering had become a problem of the Ethiopian people, as it was the same government who had brutalized the Anuak who was now openly creating an environment of terror for everyone who opposed them. The widespread injustice became a rallying cry for Ethiopians to come together to solve this shared human rights crisis. As a result, those in the AJC felt it was a moral responsibility to speak up for others who were suffering like the Anuak.

In the past year, we Ethiopians have found each other and discovered a way to work together. It has led us to the realization that we are more alike than different. Together, since this discovery, we have had a fast learning curve. We now know that the suffering we have endured because of our brutal and exploitive leaders, has been felt by millions of other Ethiopians. As we have become more tolerant of each other, we have together, reached our limit of tolerating leaders like Meles.

Ethiopians from all parts of our society are ready to throw away the model—the proto-type of such leaders! His type cannot be trusted even with some recycling of its parts—it must be discarded. In other words, to address our problem, we must address “our problem”—Meles and look-alike Meles’! We need a new type of leadership—leaders who are willing to put the interests of the people first—before their own!

Despite the fact that our Prime Minister has plunged us into a new war and restored some of his tattered image as a “hero” fighting extremism, the people in his country have a different vision for the future. They have new eyes for truth and a new eagerness for unity, peace and for the respect of all people, crossing any lines of differences that previously divided them. We have rediscovered each other and created an environment for change—and with this new environment, we are demanding a “new breed of leader.” Even though Meles has been called such a “new breed of leader,” we, along with the international community, have now discovered he is really the “old breed of leader,”—just more devious in nature.

For our future, we do not want a cardboard look-a-like of such a leader as Meles—one that merely talks the talk. Instead we want leaders who authentically live the life! For those who think you might follow in his footsteps, forget it! The Ethiopian people are ready to eradicate these kinds of leaders—just look at the election turn out for evidence of that. We are ready for a government that represents the people. The public knows that this kind of leadership like that of Meles, will only bring us more misery rather than peace, stability, prosperity, justice, equality and opportunity.

This is not to say we do not have any individual and group responsibility for mending our regrettable history of divisions, intolerances, breaches of trust and acts of serious wrongdoing between us, for we have contributed to this deception and hate-based politics for way too long. We must be accountable for that. However, a quiet revolution has started as we have had the taste of possible freedom. It has created a spirit of discontent that informs us of what we can and should be as a people and as a society, even if we are not yet there! Do not discount how important this is— awareness of a problem always precedes correction of it. Even our difficulties and pain will not be without benefit if we are wiser, kinder and freer in the future. We must persevere through these difficult times until we find durable peace.

Yet, we must look at some of the lessons of the last few years so we do not miss what we must learn before moving on. To start with, the Anuak Justice Council would never have begun without the crisis of the Anuak. I was involved in humanitarian work in the Gambella region before the massacre of 2003. It was my own grief and pain—that still exists—that drove me to begin fighting against a system that has sold its soul for lust of power and gain at the expense of the poor and weak of whom they are supposed to protect.

There are several important lessons here. First, we all must guard ourselves against compromising our values. Instead we must let our consciences rule over our actions so that we do not sell our souls in similar ways. We came into this world without anything but our souls and that is our only possession when we leave before meeting our heavenly judge. What we do on this earth matters. Yet, because we cannot always trust even ourselves, we must create laws and transparent systems, which will more easily hold all accountable. Hopefully, the motivation amongst Ethiopians for such a climate of greater accountability is something that has increased during this last year.

Secondly, we must focus on improving the human rights and life conditions for the living and those to be born, not dwelling on the dead. In other words, this fight is not just about holding the guilty accountable or seeking personal revenge, but it is about creating a government and civil society that continues to hold people so accountable for their exploitive, corrupt or abusive behavior towards other human beings, that it significantly reduces further incidences of such behavior in the future. However, because of guilt that could encompass many, we must find a way to bring reconciliation between victims and perpetrators, between ethnic groups and other groups who have been divided, neglected or injured.

Thirdly, we need a new compassion for others who are suffering amongst us. When we Ethiopians came together this past year at the crossroads of each other’s grief, we began to better recognize each other as human beings like ourselves. In the past, this has not happened like it should have as we remained in our protective groups, interested mostly in ourselves, alienated from others and not caring about the suffering of others.

For instance, in the 1980ties, the TPLF stood up against the oppression, injustice and marginalization of their own people. Why did others in power not take a stand for them? Understandably, Mengistu terrorized the people making many afraid to take a stand, but this is not enough of a reason. Eventually, other repressed people did stand up for their own freedom along side the TPLF, including the Anuak who had formed the Gambella People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM) and the OLF because the TPLF was talking about democracy and human rights for all. However, when the TPLF came into power, they quickly forgot about how it felt to be terrorized by their own government, becoming the new perpetrators of terror. Mengistu had been recycled into Meles!

When the Anuak were massacred in December of 2003, did other Ethiopians cry out in their behalf? Not really. Just check past records to see how few articles or statements of concern covered this horrific event. It was not until the killing of protestors in Addis Ababa following the elections and the testimony in front of the U.S. Congress Sub-Committee on Africa that the paths of the Anuak and other Ethiopians converged. We have learned much together since that time, but whom have we left out? There are many more Ethiopians from whom we have not heard—or perhaps listened to!

Fourthly, we should consider who we have identified in 2006 to be the real heroes and enemies? Well, for sure, the real heroes are not the leaders in the Diaspora! The true heroes—those who made a difference—are the people of Ethiopia who rallied by the millions and are continuing to do their best in an increasingly repressive society! Some lost their lives and freedom as a result. Our heroes include the 26 million people who voted, not for people here in the Diaspora, but for people who are now in prison who could have chosen to live in exile, but instead are now locked up. The heroes are also those Commissioners of the Inquiry into the post-election violence who stood up for truth at their own expense. It is all of these people who inspired others in the Diaspora to take action. Keeping that in mind, we who are outside of Ethiopia can help fight, but the real struggle is being carried out by the people back home. They have not given up. They did not die. They are still there in Ethiopia. We in the Diaspora are support groups and will always be supporters, but not the driving force of change.

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