Are we condemned to repeat history?
By Yohannes Berhe | November 24, 2011
Close to a half-century now the Ethiopian people have been caught consistently off-guard by the wind of change blowing across the nation purporting to establish a new political and social order. The 1960 coup attempt by General Mengistu Neway and his younger brother Ghermame Newaye was one of the early dissident movements for change in Ethiopia. Ghermame Neway, a US-educated progressive and activist governor, was widely seen as the motivator of the coup. He was frustrated in his attempts to improve the standard of living of the subjects living in the provinces he was assigned to govern. Ghermame then persuaded his brother, Mengistu, the then commander of the Ethiopian Imperial Bodyguard, that a military coup was feasible. The coup failed in part because there wasnít any organized body to articulate the need for a change, let alone galvanize support. It was just an ill-conceived and ill-fated attempt to overthrow the monarchy. They were driven more by idealistic abstraction of democracy and unresolved grievances than by well-thought idea how the country should be governed.
When Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe in 1991, the country was unprepared and the population thoroughly demoralized. It didnít take very long for a rag-tag TPLF army to prevail and control the vast nation. Since then the country has been experiencing a long-lasting social and political crisis. This crisis is such that the very survival of the nation can no longer be taken for granted. We find ourselves in yet another struggle to climb out of poverty and oppression. In fact, our past is a tragic story of countless missed opportunities. We donít seem to have learned from our history, however, and I am afraid we might be condemned to repeat it, as the saying goes.
Ironically, the conditions and enabling factors for a ďjust societyĒ have changed dramatically and I will argue for the better. At the center of this are the empowering impact of the Internet and other social media. They are extraordinary tools, as we witnessed in the Arab Spring uprising, which allow political mobilization that transcend time and space. The other significant factor is the ever growing Diaspora community, an immense but untapped human and financial resource that can be put to use to alleviate the plight of our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.
Despite all these instruments of change and resources at our disposal, we have yet to capitalize on them. Instead, we seem to be bogged in endless debate based on identity politics. Instead of learning from experience and working toward of common goal, we seem to engage in a variety of defence mechanisms and self deceptions involving arrogance, self-delusion and narcissistic impulse. Our problems are always somebody elseís fault. We bicker about whether we should ally with one group or another based on some perceived nationalist/separatist sentiment. In saying this, I donít want to create an impression that nothing is being done in the struggle to bring change and remove the Meles Zenawi regime from power. I admire and I am especially indebted to those back home who fought and are still fighting against all odds the TPLF tyranny and terror. But, our effort, particularly here in the Diaspora, is so utterly inadequate considering the current situation and the potential for much more perilous outcome.
Itís clear now that Ethiopia is facing an existential challenge not only from grinding poverty but also from an ethnically-intoxicated regime that is bent on dismantling the country. Our effort should be focused and unrelenting. Our struggle should be inclusive and multidimensional. We need to strongly resist the temptation of using ethnic ideology or any form of parochial politics as a means to gain political advantage. Only a movement aimed at fighting oppression and injustice in all its forms can challenge the desperate situation and the embattled feeling that prevails in our beloved country. To be clear, the pressing need for such a movement seems to be acknowledged by most of us. But somehow, our action just doesnít measure up.
Given the deteriorating socio-economic and political condition, the fall of TPLF is not a question of if, but when. The current wave of political transformation in the Middle East and North Africa is adding even more impetus to the inevitable changes sure to come to Ethiopia (and across Africa for that matter). The question remains, however, whether we are ready to embark on a new chapter and overcome our long and agonizing history, or if we once again are destined to repeat it.
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