India on my mind
By Msmaku Asrat
May 30, 2013

India is one of the oldest polities in the world such as China, Persia, Egypt and Ethiopia.  But no people are so misconstrued as the Indians. There are people who are called “Indians” in the entire America North and South. There is also a place called West Indies where no Indians live. The most famous ones (or the ones made famous by Hollywood films) are the Red Indians – now currently called Native Americans.

When I was a little boy, my greatest enjoyment was to go to the only three ‘film houses’ in Addis Ababa in Piazza area whenever I could and if possible almost every Saturday and Sunday, as well as on Wednesday afternoons (when my school TMS is closed for half a day) to see cowboy films. These places were called Cinema Adwa, Cinema  Ethiopia and Cinema ‘Ampir’ (Empire) Each work day you can see three films from 12:00 Noon till 6:00 PM.

On Saturdays and Sundays there are matinees and the show goes on from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Early morning was for children Tarzan and Chapter adventure films (ch.1 -16) The vast majority of films shown were “cowboy films” where we see the “hero” like Gary Cooper, John Wayne, shooting or mowing down dozens of blabbering “Red Indians” and we stomped, we whistled and stood up and applauded until our palms get red and our voices get hoarse.  The Clot revolvers  of the heroes and other white actors is what is known as “the 6 loader but 12 shooter” ስድስት ጎራሽ አስራ ሁለት ተኳሽ because the chambers are only six but it keeps on firing on  and on – and never mind that.

The joy is in the shooting and the killing. During my elementary and high school years, everything American (meaning US) was admired. Their chewing gums, their jeans, their coca cola, and above all their films are what we cherish most.  Since I was not a sport fan of any sort my major entertainment were the films shown at Piazza. Occasionally blockbuster movies (Mother India, Waqt, Sangham) come from Bollywood which melted the sentiments of women in particular and was loved by the general public if not the smart Alec Piazza kids.  The fiction books we read were either British or American. Agatha Christie and Graham Green were British   Zane Gray, Robert Ludlum and the ‘Saint’ series were American.  During the brutal Derg time all “Western” films were banned and second rate Indian and Russian films were the only ones allowed.

Then there are the “Indians” which the Portuguese and Spanish Conquistadores like Cortes, Pissarro encountered in Mexico and the entire Southern America.  The ‘conquistadores’ were soldiers, explorers and adventurers in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish Empires during the 15th to the 17th Centuries. Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire (Mexico) and Pissarro the Inca Empire (Peru). Both Cortez and Pissarro were second cousins. In 1492 Christopher Columbus wanted to find a Western route to India and arrived at the Caribbean Islands. He promptly called the islands “West Indies” and the people as Indians. This name was soon transferred to the mainland and the entire population of the American continent were called Indians. In the North American and specifically the United States they were called Red Indians.

This name was changed some time ago to Native Americans.  The first and greatest Holocaust which also included the destruction of animals and Nature was in the US after the arrival of the ‘White Man’ in North America. An estimated 13 million Red Indians were massacred and four times that number of buffalos, on which the “Red Indians “ depended for their sustenance, were decimated, usually be poisoning their watering holes and rivers. All this in order to clear the way for White settlers. But America was rich in natural resources beyond one’s imagination. It was called “God’s Own Country” and the holocaust was an entirely unnecessary and a most evil inhuman act for which there was no justifiable reason, except sheer cruelty.  The Second Holocaust in history was the massacre of 10 million Africans in the Congo by the mercenaries of King Leopard II, King of the Belgians and the sole owner of the enormous territory of the Congo in the 19th Century. The crime was so horrendous that Europeans Powers came together and took the Congo from the king and gave it for Belgium. And it became the Belgian Congo.  The Third Holocaust was that of Hitler against the Jews of Europe.

The Real India was that in the subcontinent of Asia.  The Portuguese first arrived there and established their colony at Goa. When Emperor Libne Dingel asked the assistance of Portugal, the mightiest power of Europe at the time, in order to repel the Jihad of Ahmed Gran and Turkey, Portugal dispatched Christopher DeGama (brother of Vasco DeGama, the famous explorer) with 400 soldiers from its colony of Goa.  When General Napier (later Lord) was sent by Queen Victoria to free the European hostages held by Emperor Tewodros, his huge army sailed from Bombay (now Mumbai), India. The India Raj (Empire) was the jewel of the British crown. First occupied by the British East Indian Company and later taken over by the British. The India Raj was the crowning jewel of the British Empire. It was their richest and largest colony. They were to stay there for over 450 years. When they left in 1948, the country was divided into two (India and Pakistan) and later Pakistan was again divided into two (Pakistan and Bangladesh)

What the British did in India was phenomenal. Those who came out first in the strenuous national exams in Britain were sent to India and those who came second stayed behind to administer the home turf. With a 40 thousand army and an excellent civil service the British ruled a unified India. They built an elaborate and excellent railway system, the best in the world. And they sent Indians to Africa, from South Africa to Kenya to build the railways there. They abolished the nefarious and most inhuman practice of SATI. It was a practice when a widowed woman would be forced to immolate herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. (Hindus do nor bury their dead but burn them)  The burning of women alive was a most horrendous crime of the Hindu Patriarchal society – the most extreme crime against women in human history. Hindus have many Gods which number more than the days in a year. Their Gods could be humans, animals (like mice, monkeys, birds, flies and cows). And plants as well. On the top sits the ‘sacred cow’. In their belief in transmigration of souls that is the best you would hope for when you die after living a correct life – to be incarnated as a COW when you are reborn again. Like the religion of “people of the Book” (Jews, Christians and Muslims), human beings   are not created in the image of God. In fact in the caste system there is a hierarchy of humanity. On top are the Brahmins and at the bottom were the Untouchables. –whom Gandhi tried to emancipate and called them Harijans (children of God). Indians also differentiate themselves in dozens of ‘shades of color’.

The British in an act of utter malice and calculated cruelty added another layer to all this. They started a system of discrimination based on color and this for the first time in human history. They put their white race on top and said that it was dictated to be on top by Devine Providence and that the brown and black races are created to be below them. They enforced this principle in the strictest possible measure going to unbelievable extremes to enforce it. Slavery has existed for millennium and all conquered people black or white were made slaves. For example, the Arab ‘Barbary pirates’ of North Africa had captured over a million Europeans between the 16th and 19th and sold them to Arabs and to the Ottoman Empire (Turks.) Later Arabs were middle men who captured Africans and sold them to other European pirates who in turn sold them as slaves to the Americas – North and South. The British who had perfected the color line in India and then transferred it to Africa. In South Africa the color line has four divisions. On top were the Whites, next came the Colored (mixed with white blood), then Indians and at the bottom the Africans. One of the greatest men of the world and undoubtedly of the 20th Century was a young lawyer called Gandhi. He was born in Indian 1989 and studied as a lawyer in Britain. In 1893 he went to South Africa and started a struggle for the emancipation of the suppressed races but it was an uphill fight against the Dutch (Afrikaners) and the British. With a brilliant stroke he took the battle into the belly of the beast- the British Raj in India - where he returned in 1908. The rest is history.

 I do not know what drew me to Mahatma Gandhi in my college days because I wrote my Thesis on Mahatma Gandhi. It may be my earlier exposure to Buddhism while in High School and my rejection of Marxism-Leninism in my college days. In my high school a certain Buddhist Guru was the rage in Addis Abeba with many followers and I was one of them.  When his books come to the only bookstore in town, Janopolus in Piazza we the ‘True Believers’ rushed to buy it and then sat at the famous King George Bar(demolished over 40 years ago and never rebuilt) next door and discuss it endlessly.   Then the Guru disappeared as suddenly as he had come. But the friends I knew then lasted for a long time.  In the 9th grade our science teacher was the exquisitely beautiful Mrs. Abrahams. We swooned and swayed whenever she comes to our classes but she charmingly and deftly ignored our raging hormones. In 12th grade we had another Indian Chemistry teacher. He was an Orthodox Christian. The small Indian Orthodox community in Addis had their services at Trinity Cathedral every Sunday. Among the 12 types of the Orthodox religions Indian Orthodox Church is one of them and the closest to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church.  There was also a small merchant group called “BANYAN” in Merkato area. I have seen them and they were selling textiles for the most part.  Later they disappeared at about the same time as the disappearance of Arab (Yemenite) merchants, who use to run small shops called Arab bet. Most importantly there were the school teachers which replaced the more expensive “ferenji” teachers. The Indians were willing to teach into the hinterland of the country, where they quickly turned ‘native’ mixed with the population easily and improved the quality of education. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian students are taught by Indian teachers. During this time, for example, the British were running a failing high school called General Wingate even while the high school education of Wingate School was five years instead of four.  Lastly, Emperor Haile Selassie made the wise decision to invite the prestigious Indian Military Academy (fashioned in the manner of the British Academy at Sandhurst) to establish the Harar Military Academy which became an excellent institution.

Gandhi   not only conquered the British Empire but emerged as the most admired and respected human being of the 20th Century. His deep understanding of the sacred books of Hinduism - Vedas, Upanishads and Baghavad Gita allowed him to develop the concept of non violence, non-cooperation in 1922. It later became known as the civil disobedience movement best expressed in the “Salt March” he led in 1930 defying importation of British salt. He then rejected the import of textile from Manchester, England, and changed his Western garment to locally hand woven loin cloth- an attire which made him world famous. Churchill refused to meet this “half-naked fakir” as he called him and loftily declared that he has not become the First Minister of Britain in order to liquidate the British Empire. Gandhi said that India lives in its 500,000 villages and should develop small self reliant communities with its excellent cottage industry - a precursor of “Small is Beautiful “concept. He was firmly opposed by Nehru and others who preferred rapid industrialization. Gandhi said that the hand loom or the spinning wheel was the symbol of India’s self reliance. The symbol was to become the centerpiece of India National Flag in honor of Gandhi.   However, India’s first Prime Minister Nehru and the Indian National Congress he led wanted Industrialization. They won the day and India industrialized much to the chagrin of Gandhi was was assassinated a few years later by a Hindu fanatic. Gandhi had brilliantly agreed to support Britain in its war effort if Britain in turn pledges to grant India’s independence after the war was over. Britain had to agree and India won its independence in 1948.  Meantime Indian soldiers served under the British army all over the world until the end of the Second World War. They were among General Cunningham’s forces when he entered Addis Ababa defeating the Italian Fascists.  It was not their first time for them in Ethiopia.  In 1868 they had accompanied Napier’s army to construct the 20 kms or so railway which was to transport the 13,000 men thirty thousand animals including 25 elephants to the foot of the escarpment. When Napier left Napier dismantled and took back this rolling stock and locomotives and left us to our own devices. Few people remember that this was the first railway built in Ethiopia.

During the sixties I had a sister living in India who was married to a diplomat. Another sister had also joined them there. When they returned the husband and wife were extremely impressed by India, he by the philosophy of Hinduism and she, by the beautiful brass, paper Mache and wood artifacts which she had collected a whole household full and they were indeed beautiful.  They also gave a daughter born there an Indian name. The other sister, even though educated there, India left no impression on her. It was as if that she has never been there.  The Indians who came to East, Central and Sothern Africa to build railways stayed there and became prosperous and served as a buffer between the native blacks and the ruling British. Kenya gained its Independence in December 1963 and the fiery “Jomo” (burning spear) Kenyatta of Mau Mau fame completely surrendered to the British after independence. The Indians were the rich traders who treated Kenyans like dirt. I noticed this in late 60’s and early 70’s when we, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs used to pass through Nairobi several times a year while going to the OAU Liberation Committee meetings in Dar Es Salaam. It was as though Kenya was still under colonial rule. The Indians showed supreme arrogance. While they walk the streets they look straight ahead and the “natives” had to scramble or fall on each other to make way for the Indians. The Indians of Tanzania have long left because of the spirit of Socialism and Ujamization introduced by Neyrere. So when Idi Amin drove out the Indians it was a singularly brilliant stroke and, those of us who have seen them in Kenya were the first to applaud his decision.  The Indians of Uganda had maintained their British citizenship but Britain was not prepared to accept them crating a huge embarrassment to Britain which reinforced their determination to topple Idi Amin. Now it appears that Museveni, the Western stooge, has invited the Indians back and with compensation paid.

In this year of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the OAU the TPLF government is deeply embarrassed by the decision of their late Meles Zenawi to deny Emperor Haile Selassie his place of honor by erecting a statue for him at AU besides that of Nkrumah. The spineless African leaders are said to have been deeply ashamed to having succumbed to the dictat of one bully who is now dead and buried. As I written elsewhere in the past it was Kwame Nkrumah who composed and read the following poem at the signing of the OAU Charter in 1963 where I was fortunately present.

Ethiopia shall rise

 Ethiopia, Africa’s bright gem

 Set high among the verdant hills

 That gave birth to the unfailing

 Waters of the Nile

 Ethiopia shall rise

 Ethiopia, land of the wise;

 Ethiopia, bold cradle of Africa’s ancient rule

 And fertile school

 Of our African culture;

 Ethiopia, the wise

 Shall rise

 And remould with us the full figure

 Of Africa’s hopes

 And destiny.


The successors of Meles  are trying to redress that historical error first by allowing their doormat of a President (whom they told to shut up when he dared to speak about Patriarch Merkorios) to write a letter to OAU asking that Emperor Haile Selassie statue be erected. The Weyane may even go further and restore the name Haile Selassie to the University and Tafai Makonnen to the school he built. During this time when the world is focusing on Ethiopia on account of the 50th Anniversary of AU the TPLF gang is showing some pro forma gestures about fighting corruption. One half of the government is investigating the other half- a total farce. It has always been known  አሳ የሚገማው ከጭንቅላቱ ነው  so does leadership. All this is a calculated window dressing theatre of the absurd for the benefit of the current crowd being assembled in Ethiopia. TPLF will not change its spots or be expected to kill the chicken that lays the golden egg of corruption. After all that is their mainstay and the raison d’être of their very existence.

The Indians have come NOW as entrepreneurs to Ethiopia. It appears they never had it so good. One investor (Karaturi) had said ‘the land given to me by the Ethiopian government almost for free is larger than my entire village.”  It has come to light that these Indian landlords have already started systematic discrimination against Ethiopians, similar to their past behavior in East Africa. I wrote this essay on India as a cautionary tale. Could they behave the same way like white colonialists, as they did earlier in Kenya or maybe doing it still there? Ethiopia has never been colonized and as such does not suffer the inferiority complex that afflicts the rest of the colonized world. Maybe the damaging psychology of colonialism runs through generations as we frequently see among previously colonized people. Otherwise how could one account say for the love and respect that Francophone Africans exhibit for France which had treated them as dirt in the past? They even take pride in emulating the French culture.  Things have changed drastically for Ethiopians since 1974 when the Derg broke their confidence and shattered their spirit not unlike any foreign colonial master. Their first attack of was to render Ethiopians landless and effectively deny them their right to citizenship, which land ownership is a central part. Then they started a targeted and systematic attack on Amaras calling them “chauvinists, landlord, neftegniyas etc. The DERG was the most ignorant and the most primitive government any people can have. Its driving motto was kill, kill, and kill, women and children, young and old, any time of the day and all year round and for the slightest provocation.  The law is the gun became the Supreme Master and the will and spirit of the Ethiopian was crushed and pulverized by the brutal Derg for 17 long years. Weyane who beat the Derg to a pulp was supported by the population as long as it got rid the hated Derg.  Sadly the Weyane did not change anything but reinforced all the evil methods of the Derg with an addition of ethnic cleansing and ethnic hatred directed against the Amara. The only beneficiaries of the Weyane are the ethnic Tigreans. Like the askaries, shumbash and bulkbash have done before during the five year period of Fascism, the Tigreans are now the enforcers of TPLF rule.  The Ethiopian society now may have changed for the worse after 40 years of relentless abuse. There are instances where ferenjis (which includes Chinese and Indians as well) are allowed or even directed to go to the front of a queue ahead of Ethiopians. That any dispute between an Ethiopian and a ferenji is settled in favor of the ferenji.  That ferenji behave like colonial masters and beat up their Ethiopian employees. It has been reported that Indian landlords routinely beat Ethiopians with a stick at the slightest provocation. That the government has no desire or interest to protect the rights of its citizens is known. In fact it is an equal partner in the exploitation and being Ethiopian means nothing to them. What is Ethiopia?  TIGRAI UBER ALLES (Tigrai above everybody else) is their motto. So what has happened in Kenya can easily happen in Ethiopia and may get worse over the years. Have we embarked on a downhill Journey without End? God Forbid.

Editor's Note - The writer of the above article has shared his views with readers. It doesn't mean there are no misleading ideas. For instance, the writer thinks the current rulers' Number One agenda is to "develop Tigrai." Actually, those of us from that region say it is wrong. The ruling class is a group that acts like it is from Tigrai but actually pits Tigrai against the rest of the country so as to prolong its stay in power over a divided country. What else could be said in an editor's note? It is up to others to write in detail and clear the misunderstanding. - An African-American news and views website.
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