The Future of the Maturing
African Diaspora
Sharing my Night Memories of the 1974
Ethiopian Revolution and the Purpose of my Departure *


"Ethiopia has always been a mosaic of linguistic groups but it has no history of internecine conflict on the basis of ethnicity until the arrival of PM Meles and his party in 1991; who to the horror of many, and for the first time in the country’s long history imposed virulent ethno-centric policies including a wide ranging bantustanization of the country along ethnic lines aimed more at manipulation of differences rather than the promotion of ethnic equality." - Kinijit, April 22, 2006
Among the multiple sources of Africa’s chronic economic poverty, social and political instability, and the persistent backwardness of the educational and health sectors is the exodus and permanent settlement of Africans: the brain drain. Indeed, millions of highly educated and skilled Africans in the Diaspora today are maturing and living in a world in which they have not been born - in their countries of asylum or immigration. As my own profile clearly illustrates, a large number of the currently maturing African Diaspora left their countries of origin carrying in their minds not just a bag of goals conducive to improving their own personal lives and those of their families back home, but also with a solid aim of returning home within a brief period - a maximum of one or two years. In reality, however, that has not been the case.

Night Memories of the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution and the Purpose of my Departure

As is true for every child, I too had my own personal ambitions, ideas and visions about what I wanted to be and how to become an active and productive member of society - a contributing force to the growth and development of my country, where I had no doubt when I was a boy that I would remain as an inseparable part of Ethiopian society. Oh, yes, I was convinced that Ethiopia was the place where I would spend my entire life. I was not just ambitious but I was also a boy devoted to my studies - to what I wanted to be in the future - and well known for being assertive. As far as I can recall, during the nostalgic period of my childhood, I was often engaged with expansive plans about what I wanted to be, including becoming a famous international attorney and at the same time a moderator of TV and conference debates. Seriously considering and exploring the possibilities to one day become a well-known and highly respected advisor to the head or heads of the government of my country of that memorable period were my sleeping tablets.

The vivid visions and night dreams I had during my childhood related to future socio-political and economic roles and responsibilities were compounded with sweet and tender dreams. Although I never told any of my best friends or family members, I was madly in love with my little neighbour girl named Gonaye, whom I always call “my Goni,” which can roughly be translated as “a good part of me.” As Goni repeatedly told me that she too was in love with me and her future life would be meaningless without me, I wanted to belong to her forever and spend the rest of my life with Goni. To me, at least at that period, there were no any other beautiful girls on earth as beautiful as my little Goni girl. She was not only beautiful, but also soft, loving and most generous. And despite being so young, the words and statements of Gonai were always carefully and wisely crafted and expressed in the most affectionate fashion. Love letters exchanged through trusted family house-guards were our main source of communication.

Whenever there was an opportunity, we met each other in late afternoon or early evening in a shop that was located in our neighborhood. With the limited time Goni and I were allowed to be outside, we made all possible efforts to make our time together enjoyable. We shared our bottles of soft drinks, but never kissed each other in the shop or in public places. We kissed each other through the fence that divided Goni’s house from mine, but only in the evening, when it was getting darker. We never dared to even to talk about sex. And consequently, Goni and I never even saw each other’s bodies without clothes. But since we knew that we loved each other so deeply and belonged to one another, there was no hurry at all for sex. We knew that as soon as Goni and I had completed our studies and had found jobs, we were going to get married, to have a joyful life and have our lovely children. I always lovingly expressed my desire to Goni to have at least six children - four girls and two boys. Goni preferred to have fewer children, only four - two girls and two boys. When we quarreled heatedly and emotionally about the number of children each of us would like to have, the charming and powerful words of Goni, “stop it now my love! You know that time will tell,” had the power to immediately end the discussion.

Indeed, as a teenager, I thought my many plans and vivid visions would make me a productive and responsible member of Ethiopian society. I also I had sweet and loving dreams of becoming a proud husband of my Goni girl and the father of my dream children, living in my own country. Most unfortunately, however, all my plans and night dreams, including the immeasurable true love I had for my Goni were abruptly interrupted by the upheavals of the 1974 Ethiopian revolution.

The 1974 Ethiopian Revolution and the Purpose of my Departure

I left Ethiopia during the upheaval that overthrew the Emperior Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, who had ruled my country for some forty years. Immediately after coming to power, the Ethiopian Revolutionary Provisional Government suspended the longstanding Ethiopian constitution, and arrested all former Ethiopian ministers, army and police generals and those associated with Haile Selassie. Finally, Haile Selassie himself was arrested and killed. The highly accelerated changes that accompanied these events, including the course and direction of the Ethiopian revolution, were appalling – even in some cases most terrifying. Yet, despite witnessing many fearsome events, I initially never thought of leaving my country. Besides, at that time I had no idea how to leave Ethiopia even if I wanted to do so. It was the events of just one night that decided that my life would be spent outside my country - Ethiopia. It was, I think, the second of October 1974. I was not at home; I had gone to spend the night not with Goni but with my best male friend - Melku Bezugeza. As it was then very normal in Ethiopia to sleep in one bed with a male friend, I was sleeping together with my friend in his bed. Yes, Melku was a friend of my childhood and my best friend. We did everything together. When we were together we usually talked almost the whole night, and listened to the news from minute to minute. Because of this habit and our persistent curiosity to know about events and developments both at home and abroad, Melku and I were probably among the first Ethiopians to hear about the murder of about 60 Ethiopian assets of Haile Selassie's government, including ministers and other officials, from the Ethiopian radio news transmission in the early morning of the 23rd of November 1974. The country was full of fear, tension and uncertainties. No one knew when the soldiers would come, knock on the door as forcefully as they could and snatch one or more family members from a household, including our loved ones or us. During this fearful and most memorable period, Melku and I also became more fearful and dependent upon each other, unwilling to spend a day without seeing one another. Due to the accelerated tempo of structural changes in all areas, the continuing and most indescribable upheaval and the increasing number of young people being taken away and never coming back, Melku and I would go to sleep holding each other as tightly as we could. In those dark and terrifying days, my best friend Melku and I also used to pretend that we were both courageous and determined to defend each other as relentlessly as we could. Yes, Melku and I were good friends, prepared to give everything we had and to die for each other. Especially during the darkest hours each of us used to do our best to give words of encouragement to the other – "don't be afraid, my best friend. No one will touch you while I am with you, as long as I am alive. Don't be scared, I am here to defend you," I said to him. And Melku Bezugeza responded with almost the same words, coming from stammering lips. “Listen, Tilo, someone will dare to touch you only when they see my dead body - when they perceive that I am dead and you have no one to defend you. But as long as I am well, alive and with you, no one is going to do anything to you. I am here to defend you until the end of my life." These were Melku's unforgettable words. Someone listening to our talks at that time could have easily seen that the words and statements we made to each other were purely a sign of fear, of being totally terrified by the actions we were witnessing.

Our fears were not baseless. Much to our shock and panic, the soldiers, about seven to nine of them came, started screaming and breaking down doors and everything they found in front of them. Melku and I did not know what to do or where to go. The soldiers were everywhere. But when we began to listen quietly and more rationally, the soldiers were not at our door. They were breaking the doors and property and terrifying the family of Melku's neighbour. We heard the soldiers asking the mother of the family to tell them the whereabouts of two of her sons – the ones they were looking for. This lady, who was the mother of seven children, insisted that she did not know where her two sons were. I was standing and looking through a small hole in the door of Melku’s bedroom. I saw one of the soldiers pulling out a pregnant daughter of the woman and dragging her outside along the ground with all his power, then standing with his big shoes on her stomach, though one could see clearly that she was carrying a baby. She and her five-month old baby died immediately.

It was that night I made up my mind to leave Ethiopia. Although I have never in my life heard of a more beautiful, a better country with kinder or lovelier people than Ethiopia, I just wanted to disappear. Besides, many of the children of my uncles and aunts who were in my age group, and many of my friends, had already left Ethiopia without saying a word to me, to their friends or family members. Yes, I also felt lonely and helpless without most of my friends.

At the time, as for almost all Africans now living in the Western world, when I finally decided to leave my country I thought it would be just for a few months, or a maximum of one or two years – until the dust of the upheaval that was the Ethiopian revolution had settled. Given the ambitious socio-political and economic plans I had in my mind, combined with the joyful and affectionate relationship I had with Goni - whom I actually had considered as uncontested part of my future life - I never thought, never dreamed of spending a quarter of a century of my life in another country without her and the family members I was fond of, and in a country where I will never be in a position to say "this my county.” But I left Ethiopia without delay and without saying goodbye to my Goni girl, whom I still miss today.

The Future of the Maturing African Diaspora

Almost all of the currently maturing African Diaspora living permanently in the West have stories that are more or less the same, with short-lived plans that were as simple as mine. They initially left their countries to study for a few years, or immigrated thinking it was just for one or two years; they planned to return, get married, and live a better life in their own country or countries. As in my case, the great majority of Africans were forced to leave their motherland by political repression at home. However, in general people who initially thought they would definitely go back home within a few years never did. The reality is that almost all Africans who are now effectively settled in the west are living the same way of life as westerners, with a proper income and proper housing – in some cases a luxuriously organized way of life. Their new habits, combined with the day-to-day personal freedom of the west, mean that reintegration in the culture back home on a limited salary, with uncertain political conditions and limitations on freedom of movement, would not be an easy process.

What is more tragic in recent times is that while almost all of us left our hometowns with the intention of returning as soon as possible to the place where we belong, the possibility of fulfilling the old dream seems now to be very remote, even untouchable, due to the changing political maps in our countries of origin - with the deterioration of political stability, the persistent repression of political opponents and massive human rights violations. Consequently, some Africans may not even want to think about either going back or investing in their countries of origin.

The worsening political trend in recent times in countries like Ethiopia is reaching its climax in an irreconcilable fashion. On top of the existing internal, deadly political instabilities in the countries of the Horn of Africa, we observe new and mounting political turmoil in Ethiopia, in particular due to the measures undertaken by the vicious and power-thirsty regime of Meles Zenawi, aimed at eliminating political opponents and eradicating the people’s political parties from the land of Ethiopia. The killings of over one hundred innocent Ethiopian citizens since the May 2005 national election; the incarceration of our elected leaders; the unlawful mass arrests and torture, the terrorization and beatings of the mothers, wives, sisters and children of those suspected of supporting opposition political parties, have been instrumental in sending a clear message to the maturing and highly educated Ethiopian Diaspora, discouraging any idea of returning to their country of origin and contributing to the alleviation of poverty and helping to improve and expand the much needed educational sector and other aspects that will support the economy of the country.

The forces of political turmoil currently lashing much of Ethiopian society, clouding the economic and political map of my country, and the unacceptable measures undertaken - including unusually cruel methods of arrest, torture and killing - by Meles’s cadres, which have already been denounced both by Ethiopians and the international community at large, are not only becoming a bottleneck to the incalculable potential contributions of the very resourceful Ethiopian Diaspora to the development of Ethiopia. Instead, these forces have created an inextinguishable energizing focus on crafting and shaping complex mechanisms and strategies to challenge the unlawful measures being employed by the ruling party and to wage a peace-oriented diplomatic war against Meles, intend to weaken the economic and military power of the EPRDF and to isolate Meles himself from the wider international community upon which he and his ruling party are exclusively dependent.

It is additionally true that for some of the maturing Ethiopian Diaspora, the prospects for returning home have been darkened by the ongoing massive, atrocious crimes being committed by the ruthless cadres of Meles, as demonstrated by the arrival of the newly produced exodus of compatriot refugees who are joining the maturing Ethiopian Diaspora in their countries of asylum. Indeed, by accelerating the spread of fear throughout the country, the ruling party and its cadres are currently forcing the indispensable economic forces of Ethiopia to leave their country and loved ones. Just as we have seen in other countries with repressive regimes, the ruling TPLF party has been and is still intensively preparing the ground for western governments and private firms, who are unashamedly going directly to Ethiopia and other Africa countries with the aim of bringing more Africans to the west, draining African of brains by bringing out African doctors, nurses and other professionals.

What is most shocking and has in fact become an energizing and harmonizing force for a good number Ethiopians of my generation, whether in Ethiopia or residing in the Western world, those who experienced the unforgettable and painful periods of Mengistu’s era, however, is the fact that in our wildest dreams we had never thought that the spirit of Mengistu’s terror would once again come back to our country to haunt our children - the generation of my daughter.

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* This article appeared on Sudan Tribune and Debteraw’s websites in late November 2005.

Dr. Maru Gubena, from Ethiopia, is a political economist, writer and publisher. Readers who wish to contact the author can reach him at info@pada.nl


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