The consequences of denial and the stubborness of the mind
By Golto Aila | May 17, 2008
There is something powerful occurring in the Ethiopian-American community. People who were never inspired to take part in the political process are realizing that they have a duty as citizens to partake in the political process and be a part of the change that is taking place. While they will always love the land of their birth, they realize that they are deeply ingrained in United States and are vested in the direction of this great country. Never before has a politician inspired so many people from so many backgrounds and countries to unite for one common purposes.

The recent events, however, have propelled me, yet again, into trying to dissect some aspects of our lives to shed some light as to what are the factors that come into play with regards to our attitudes and relations vis-à-vis Ethiopia and other Ethiopians! There are three factors which determine our interactions with the social and political environments in which we live, as described by Sigmund Freud: a) id drives us towards pleasurable experiences (sex being the best example); b) ego is responsible for our logical and rational thinking focusing on realities of our environment; and c) super-ego which defines our moral standards and forms the basis of our conscience! Operating purely at the id level we would not be better than animals, whereas operating at the super-ego level we would all be in the club of the saints! Most of us live somewhere in between these extremes, depending on how forcefully the ego exerts itself!

The role of the ego is not always positive as its use in the common usage definitely suggests! In our Ethiopian political and social context today, as expected, the ego appears to be the problem because it is almost always inclined to use the strategy of denial to avoid addressing the realities faced by our people and our Motherland today! Denials come in many shapes and forms and here are some examples:

  1. Denial of fact: In our current political and social context, by and large, there is no denial of the existence of serious social and political problems, although there may be omission of part of the facts that may excuse us from taking necessary actions to eliminate the unpleasant reality. An example of this may be: a) while we know that the current regime in Ethiopia has brought serious problems to Ethiopia, some deny that the problem can at least be partially solved by informing the world through demonstrations in the streets of Washington or New York, such as the ones going on currently! By adopting this defense strategy one will have built for oneself the case against demonstrating, and thereby resolving the stress of guilty conscience which would have resulted had one surmised that demonstrating in the capitals of the powerful world is one way of bringing down the regime in Ethiopia; and b) the other good example of this is by denying that there is any other effective way of dealing with the regime in Ethiopia except by armed struggle! This immediately protects the person or persons against taking any other action, and since he or she has no power to put together an army to fight the regime in Ethiopia, he or she is free from taking any action at all; and c) yet another good example of denial of reality is the recent actions of the regime in Ethiopia where they put in place rules that virtually disenfranchised Ethiopia! By implementing an overtly biased set of rules against the opposition the government ensured a landslide victory for its candidates! It is in denial that such actions will only aggravate the hostility by the population further and sooner or later they will pay a heavy price!

  2. Denial of responsibility: This comes in several forms:

    1. Blaming someone else: For instance some people say, the TPLF came to power by using force; they divided Ethiopia along the ethnic and regional partitions; and are responsible for all the ills in the country. There is no denial that there is a serious problem, but that problem is blamed entirely on the TPLF. By so doing the individual or communities have defended themselves against the need to take any action to remedy the situation. By so doing these individuals have put the sole responsibility of fixing the problems of Ethiopia on the regime which has made no secret from the onset that it is its sworn duty to destroy Ethiopia!

    2. Minimizing the fact: Minimizing the fact, defends or protects the individual against taking an action which is perceived to hurt him or her! A good example of this is the recent crisis in the Kinijit leadership! First there was a denial of the fact that there was a split when there was (they were lying to the public), but when the public insisted that they come together and urgently resolve their differences, to avoid the unpleasant experience of sitting at the same table and resolving their differences and to placate the concerned compatriots, they told the prospective mediators that their problem was minor and that they would internally resolve it. Of course, they were not serious about it; they just wanted to stop others from meddling in their personal affairs and they did not want to take the responsibility of resolving their differences, and the rest is history!

    3. Justifying an action: We must all know by now there is no one single group of people who can resolve the problem with the regime in Ethiopia! Most people, including the many opposition personalities, at least in public, admit that we all need to come together and make a united stand against the regime! But it is also obvious that it may actually be easier for some of these opposition leaders to talk with the regime rather than talk to each other! So, instead of taking the responsibility of making peace with each other and bringing about the sorely needed unity among all the factions by direct efforts, one sees efforts such as the recent creation of yet another political party, as a justification to overcome the stubborn regime in Ethiopia! This is, of course, just a way of appearing to do something meaningful while at the same time avoiding the unpleasant task of sitting with people you hate or don’t agree with which, in fact, is the right way to move forward. Incidentally, the launch of the new party was timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the stolen elections of 2005. Although there was a profuse talk about uniting with other Ethiopian movements during its launch, no effort, to my knowledge, was made by the newly born party to reach out or bring people together to commemorate this very important day by joining in the demonstrations to commemorate that day or mourn the hundreds who lost their lives and livelihood in the aftermath of that election!

  3. Denial of impact: In our situation this is probably the worst form of denial! This is the situation in which the person or persons deny that their action or actions have had any impact on the reality. I have nothing against the Kinijit organization, but it gives a vivid and recent example of this! The leaders of Kinijit were elected by the popular vote of the Ethiopian people after they campaigned for that support, and when they were wrongfully incarcerated, the public demonstrated and demanded their release, and many lost their lives as a consequence of that. When they came out of prison, the Kinijit leaders did not stand with the people who sacrificed so much in support of their organization, but jumped on a plane and headed for North America, some have not found their way back yet! Some failed, at least publicly and by their actions, to acknowledge that had they not formed the Kinijit organization and pleaded with the public for support, there would not have been arrests and killings of those innocent people!
  4. Denial of cycle: Every human event usually is a phase in a chain of events. In our Ethiopian situation there are a whole series of actions and reactions over many years that have led to a pathetic situation where most of the opposition parties don’t see eye to eye! It did not “just happen”! It is just not natural that people who have a common enemy don’t come together to form a defense alliance of some sort. But facing that reality and joining hands with one’s erstwhile enemy for the sake winning peace and democracy in Ethiopia is, for most; too bitter a pill to swallow! How many times have we heard those who regularly add fuel to the fire of discord in Ethiopia ask – “What is wrong with us? Why can’t we come together and resolve our differences?”
  5. Denial of denial: A very knowledgeable friend of mine and a proud son of Ethiopia would probably call this “ossification of the mind”! This is the mother of all denials! First, there are a number of the above denials and combinations thereof, with the attendant consequences as described in the examples above, and then there is a denial that those denials even exist!

Denials are mechanisms of psychologically protecting oneself against an unpleasant reality! Often it is an innocent effort to protect oneself against a devastating impact of a given reality, such as a sudden death of a loved one! When the news arrives the immediate reaction often is “No, you have made a mistake, it cannot be my son/daughter etc!” That denial saves the individual from a devastating shock; it gives the individual a space in which to adjust to this unexpected and devastating reality. Slowly the denial gives way to mourning of the loss (this may take several weeks), then adjustment to cope with that reality. Adjustment means the acceptance that the loved one has gone for good, and adapting one’s life in the light of this reality leads to a successful life. Denying that one has lost a loved one is protective and natural for a short while, but if it continues beyond a reasonable mourning period, leading one to deny that he or she is denying the existence of the new reality – the death of a loved one, it will permanently damage the individual, because it is now an obstacle to the necessary adjustment to cope! Take this to a national level! Most Ethiopians were in the state of denial when Woyanes took Addis Abeba, following the collapse of the Mengistu regime! Then there were protests in the streets of capitals throughout the world. Then there was a continued denial that Woyanes would hold on to power and were there to stay, and that the rest of the country needed to sit down and talk with them so that a peaceful transfer to democracy would take place! That denial is what my friend would call ossification of the mind – a mind which is not flexible or pliable enough to learn, accept, and adapt to the new reality (now 17 years old) and craft an imaginative and creative way forward! The current illegal regime in Ethiopia has identical problems – they deny that Ethiopians see them for what they are - a liberation front bent on destroying Ethiopia! They proved this perception by their policy of divide and rule; parceling out Ethiopian territories to hostile neighbors to buy short to medium term favors; crafting phony constitutional articles and laws to protect their own narrow interest while in denial that the entire nation is watching all this and is waiting for the opportunity to dislodge them. Fearing to confront the stark realities that face them, they have decided to indulge themselves in a protracted state of denial as described above. They have totally failed to learn from the lessons of the dictator that they dislodged from power! There are many denials of denials that have for so long frozen the path to freedom for all! Here are a few:

  1. Denial of the denial that there is the need to respect each other irrespective of ethnic, political and social differences
  2. Denial of the denial that all Ethiopians need to sit together and figure out the way forward. There is a lot of talk of unity but minimal efforts from these sooth sayers in that regard
  3. Denial of the denial that all Ethiopians have to take personal responsibility in crafting the way forward in Ethiopia
  4. Denial of the denial that relying on the sympathies of the outside world is not going to resolve the internal problems of Ethiopia.
  5. Denial of the denial that TPLF is a liberation front and that their ultimate goal is not necessarily to see strong Ethiopia
  6. Denial of the denial by the TPLF that unless they find a fair way of settling their dispute with Ethiopia that they have no future in Ethiopia, and that their actions will have a lasting effect for all inhabitants of the Horn of Africa!

The events of this week, championed by the likes of Obang Metho, and many others around the globe, are hopeful signs that all our minds are not ossified and that our youth and ordinary people are beginning to learn that we must confront the realities of our time head-on, and not to encumber the future generation with the fruits of our ignorance! We must all want to leave something worthwhile for our children and grandchildren, what better than a Motherland they can all be proud about! It is time for the leaders of the regime in Addis Abeba, their opponents, and the entire nation to de-ossify their minds for the good of all!

The writer can be reached at - An African-American news and views website.
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