"Every dark cloud has a silver lining"
The remarks Prof. Mesfin Wolde-Mariam made on VOA Amharic program yesterday October 16 has certainly left a sour taste in our mouth. It was sour given the high expectations that his interview may resolve the widening rift between the 22-strong delegation headed by Ms. Bertukan Mideksa, and the solo flight by Engineer Hailu Shawel.
Instead of bringing the two sides together, Prof. Mesfin ended up thrashing the two sides like hay, and added his own fuel to the fire that has been simmering beneath the surface since the CUD delegates arrived in the US.
But the condemn-all interview of Prof. Mesfin had its silver lining as well: He advised the young generation to keep fighting for political freedom as the alternative is to hug life under tyranny, which is not a choice at all. At 76 seen as the father of human rights movement in Ethiopia, Prof. Mesfin encouraged the young generation to break clean with the age-old habit of “talking behind the back,” and embrace the modern way of doing business through more transparent, more honest, more forthcoming ways. In short, the lesson the respected scholar wanted to pass on to the young generation is to feel free to air ones own feelings. And that’s when we said his speech that hovered over our heads like a dark cloud for much of the interview with Tizita Belachew had its silver lining as well.
Breaking the ice
Given our conservative culture, it's very difficult to criticize the likes of Prof. Mesfin Wolde-Mariam, a staunch human rights campaigner who has been in and out of prison under the Zenawi regime. In the course of the last two painful years, we elevated Prof. Mesfin high in our minds that it now feels painful to tell him how faulty he was on October 16. But again, we should face the reality that the 76-year-old former geography professor is a fellow human being prone to making errors. As much as he was at ease to thrash respeced individuals, we should feel at ease to tell Prof. Mesfin how he sounded eccentric, to say the least.
To begin with, telling Prof. Mesfin how repulsive his interview was is not about an issue of defending Dr. Berhanu. It’s a public secret the sophisticated economist is articulate enough who easily wins the wows of members of the even the US Congress, not to mention of his own alma mater. In Berhanu, many saw a beacon of hope particularly for his native Ethiopia.
Therefore, our effort here is about defending what we think is right; it is about defending the truth. It is about telling Prof. Mesfin how he was cut off from reality, and failed us on a day we needed him most. Our expectation that he would act like an assertive judge, and bring an end to the lingering crisis within the CUD leadership was dashed to pieces. It is sickening to see Prof. Mesfin lamenting away his time, that he had foreseen the danger within Kinijit leadership three years ago, a time he said he had waved goodbye to Kinijt.
The avalanche of negative words he let loose was enough to worry journalist Tizita, who tried to take Prof. Mesfin to a brighter side, hoping he may have a few kind words for Berhanu this time, and asked him if he read Dr. Berhanu’s Yenetsanet Goh Sikid (The Dawn of Freedom).
Critics known for their harshness would even be careful to first commend any writer’s attempt to contribute to the world of literature. But this modest way of commending any writer of any stature was missing from Prof. Mesfin’s talk that day.
“Yes, I’ve read it,” Prof. Mesfin said with a discordant voice, and dismissed the book by asking what is the surprise if Berhanu writes about Berhanu?
Oh, Lord! Why is the old generation short on generosity and long on malice? But again, this generalization is wrong as we have elders like the statesman and scholar Hailu Araya, a man revered for his valor in the face of tyranny, and disarmingly humble in the service of his freedom-yearning people.
As much as we respect Prof. Mesfin, there is no doubt members of the young generation also love and respect their young leader: the modern and sophisticated Dr. Berhanu Nega. Is he hungry for power? This is no crime in a democratic society; given Berhanu’s desire is to better the lives of his people by vying for a political power. It is the right of any individual who runs for a public office to vie for power. Otherwise, how else would one change the promise a candidate makes to the people in the run-up to elections?
But to label him that he was after chasing personal glory hurts the goals and ideals that Kinijit stands for. Remember: we are not talking about the Honorable Berhanu Deressa, the man who jumped onto the mayoral seat of metropolitan Addis Ababa upon the orders of Meles Zenawi. We are talking about Berhanu Nega, the first democratically-elected mayor in the history of Addis Ababa, and hence the country. Counter to Prof. Mesfin’s allegations, Dr. Berhanu chose to go to prison than break the promise he made along with other Kinijt leaders to the Ethiopian voters. If Dr. Berhanu were as blinded by power and fame as Prof. Mesfin would like us believe, no force could have stopped him from spending warm evenings in the company of tyrants at Sheraton Addis.
Yes, imprisonment is a sacrifice
Prof Mesfin has been in prison along with other CUD leaders. They were confined to flea-infested cells where a single toilet was shared among 150 inmates. Political prisoners were chained along with convicts of serious crimes. Several inmates were being ferried to hospitals due to the unhygienic and glaringly disgusting prison conditions. On top of that, there was the routine mistreatment in the hands of the jailers.
If being dragged out of cozy homes into the stench of Kaliti is not a sacrifice, what else could it be, professor? Should the inmates shoot themselves to claim they have the ticket that shows they have paid the highest sacrifice? Why is it seen as a crime if the residents of Ferensai Legacion express their love for Kinijit by presenting a token prize to their young daughter whom they saw as coming of age as the promising leader of the country? Why is it a crime if Ethiopians across the cities in North America and Europe roll out a red carpet for the courageous Kinijit leaders? If we are not part of it, should we spoil it?
The funniest accusation also came when the CUD delegation was accused of "rushing to visit US and Europe" while abandoning the homefront.
This is funny because we know CUD needs money to re-open and run offices throughout the country. Pitted against a ruling party that has the country's resources at its disposal, how are the CUD leaders recently released from prison to start work right away without any sizeable budget?
What's wrong to pay a short-term visit to the Ethiopian Diaspora, re-structure Kinijit support groups along democratic lines, raise a modest budget and go back home for a major battle that would last months and years? Honestly, which part of Ethiopia is capable of raising one million Birr at one go?
Well, a lot could have been said about how wrong the beloved Prof. Mesfin was on October 16. But the young leaders and the young generation know more than what most of us would like to admit. The future belongs to the young generation of leaders, and what’s expected of the elders is to be short on cursing and long on blessing.
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