in Unreality: The Disconnected World of Ethiopians
July 22, 2008
I was recently in Washington D.C. to speak at the Ethiopian
Border Commission Meeting as well as to attend the Ethiopian
Sport Federation sponsored soccer games, political meetings
and other Ethiopian events, all packed into one week.
My days were filled with intense political meetings
and serious discussions regarding the abysmal condition
of Ethiopia and what to do about it, but when I attended
the soccer games at the stadium and the Union Station’s
Nightclub event for young Ethiopians it was as if I
had entered a totally different world from the first.
Ever since, I have been thinking about the disconnections
between these worlds. As I did, I was struck with the
impression that we might discover some clues to finding
a way out of our current mess by considering how to
bridge the gap between these and other disconnected
realities held by Ethiopians. My week in Washington
D.C. proved to be filled with opportunities to experience
Ethiopian life from various different perspectives.
I will cover three groups of events in three articles
or parts: 1) the stadium soccer games, 2) the youth
event at Union Station, and 3) the political events.
Ethiopian Sport Federation’s Silver
This year’s soccer games, sponsored by the Ethiopian
Sport Federation, were held in Washington D.C. from
June 29 to July 5. It marked the organization’s
Silver Jubilee Anniversary of its hosting of these soccer
games for Ethiopians. Since the events’ inception
twenty-five years ago, Ethiopians from all over the
world have been coming together once a year, meeting
as one people in some major city in North America. It
is a time Ethiopians get together, not only for the
sporting events, but for family reunions, cultural events
and political events.
As tens of thousands of Ethiopians converged on Washington
D.C. for this year’s events, Ethiopian flags,
music, food, colors and sports drew young and old, men
and women and Ethiopians originating from most every
region of Ethiopia. These Ethiopians now live in many
different cities and countries throughout the world,
but they have not forgotten their Ethiopian roots. No
other event has drawn more Ethiopians in the Diaspora
to celebrate the beauty, diversity and joy of their
cultural heritage than this one week—a week that
is super-charged with “everything
The Building Blocks for a New Ethiopia
I was struck with the image of what a powerful force
would emerge if such unity, joy and enthusiasm for Ethiopia
could somehow be captured and used as the building blocks
for the “New Ethiopia” I have been envisioning!
Nowhere did I see this more than in the young Ethiopians
who loved their heritage and each other without regard
to tribalism, racial biases, factionalism and divisions
found among older Ethiopians. This is the “New
Ethiopia” of tomorrow that I saw on their
Imagine what we Ethiopians in the Diaspora could do
in tackling our problems if we could transport such
unity and openness to those in Ethiopia, not only to
our families, but also to the greater family of Ethiopia.
However, on the other hand, I feared they were detached
from the harsh realities of real life in Ethiopia. The
entire week, I rarely saw any young people at any of
the political meetings. Most everyone at these meetings
was over forty years of age. But at the stadium events
and at the Union Station nightclub event, most everyone
was under that age.
I wondered what would happen if older Ethiopians could
embrace the youths’ view that placed little emphasis
on ethnicity, political affinity, regional divisions
and racial prejudices. I also wondered how well the
youth understood the level of oppression, tyranny and
hardship that Ethiopians were facing back home and wondered
why no young people were attending the meetings. I then
decided that the best of these two separate realities
could be the answer. The question is, how can we combine
the best of both and act on it?
As flags were happily waved by the young people, I
was overwhelmed with the hope that somehow, this love
of Ethiopia, alongside the joy of living in a free country
like America with its openness and acceptance of other
people, could somehow be channeled into these young
people deeply caring about those stuck in the TPLF apartheid
regime and tragedy of life within Ethiopia. I wondered
whether the gap between these two realities could come
together to form a greater youth movement to free Ethiopia.
I also wondered whether older Ethiopians could learn
from the youth who saw each other as “equally
Ethiopian.” The youth were not being divided
against one another based on ethnic suspicions and loyalties,
regional background, political alliances, religious
views and cultural backgrounds like their parents. Here
in America, it no longer mattered so much. In Ethiopia,
something like ethnic loyalty and achieving dominance
over other groups was equated with opportunity and even
basic survival. Here it was equated with competition
over who would win the soccer games—two different
The openness to each other I saw, showed a glimpse
of a promising possibility—that if you the
reader, not only the politicians, activists or
educated Ethiopians, could change in this setting, we
could change in another.
The Stadium Soccer Games
I have never seen any other country out of Africa,
or elsewhere for that matter, bring thousands of their
people in the Diaspora together the way Ethiopians have
done during this week of the Ethiopian Sports Federation’s
soccer games. Despite the negative problems of Ethiopia,
it makes me feel very happy to be part of it.
When you look around, you see a rich background of
Ethiopian images. You might notice the Ethiopians flags
circling the stands or peaceful Ethiopians walking—young
and old—smiling, holding the hands of their young
children and perhaps, wearing Ethiopian flags on their
clothing. You do not see the differences of ethnicity,
but instead, you see people as Ethiopians or simply,
people as people—all beautiful and unique.
Ninety per cent of the people at the stadium were young,
meaning under the age of 35. They were showing their
patronage of anything Ethiopia—buying Ethiopian
flags, T-shirts with Ethiopian images and words, Ethiopian
CD’s with Ethiopian music and Ethiopian food to
On Friday “Ethiopian Day,” thirty to forty
thousand Ethiopians packed into the stadium to watch
the Ethiopian Cultural celebration where many different
ethnic groups performed their traditional dances. All
different ethnic groups participated, many with children
on their backs. It was so moving for me to watch that
I felt chill in my back. I and some spectators were
brought to cry tears of joy rather than tears from pain
so common to the average Ethiopian throughout the country.
But here in America, everyone was overjoyed.
A Brilliant Display of the Garden of
I have often talked about my dream of the diversity
of Ethiopians becoming a beautiful garden. What I saw
at the stadium were simply “Ethiopians,”
not tribes, political groups or factions. What I saw
was a momentary display of that beautiful garden of
Ethiopia, with all its diversity and complexity. I saw
the solidarity in this garden of different colors, shapes
People frequently ask me what my wish is for Ethiopia
and I can tell you, I saw it that day. I
saw the dancing and the joy. I saw my garden I have
been dreaming about. I saw humanity before ethnicity.
I looked at the beauty of each person as a unique human
being. I saw the Solidarity for a New Ethiopia. I
temporarily disconnected from the harsh reality of what
is going on in Ethiopia through participating in this
celebration of our differences. When the music ended,
I was brought back to reality and the joy I had experienced
was replaced with the knowledge that our family of Ethiopians
were dying back home. I wanted all the more for this
beautiful garden to include them.
Those at the stadium all seemed to be so in love with
Ethiopia; yet, there was something missing—not
only an understanding of how bad things were in Ethiopia,
but a lack of involvement in changing the downward direction
of the country. At the political meetings, I saw no
young people giving input or becoming involved. Those
making the decisions for the future of Ethiopia were
all older. Ninety-nine percent of them were men. I wondered
where the women were?
I also wondered why a whole generation of young Ethiopians
is so disconnected from what will really change Ethiopia.
Their love of the country will do nothing without action.
Those young Ethiopians buying Ethiopian flags should
be told about their country and that the future of the
country is in their hands.
Women should be at these meetings because they are
the ones burying their young, the elders and the vulnerable.
They are the backbone of this nation and sometimes the
politicians fail to recognize their sacrifice and the
value of their contributions. For me, it was my grandmother
that guided me to become the person I am today. Imagine
what the youth and the women of the Ethiopian Diaspora
could do if they mobilized not only by words, but by
The Reality of a Dying Ethiopia Must
Be Known by the Young People and the Mothers, Daughters
and Wives of Ethiopia
I was brought back to the reality of the children of
Ethiopia who are dying because of the lack of clean
water, malaria, or the lack of child and maternal health
care. I think of the Ogadeni, Afar, Oromo or Anuak young
women or girls who have been viciously sexually assaulted
or raped by the military—the same military agents
of this regime who are supposed to be protecting them,
but instead brutalize them with impunity.
I think of those young and old who have spoken out
against such abuses and ended up in jail. Consider the
reality of life for the beggar, for the young girls
selling their bodies because they have nothing to eat,
the crying mother because she has no food for her children
and for those running from Ethiopia for opportunity,
but dying on the road or in the Red Sea instead of realizing
their dreams of freedom.
I was brought to the reality of Meles making Ethiopia
landlocked and then giving Ethiopian land to Sudan and
Djibouti. I think of how he has sent Ethiopian young
men by force, with no choice, to die in a foreign land—Somalia.
I thought about the lack of acceptance between Ethiopians
when someone will not like another Ethiopian simply
because they are Oromo, Tigrayan or of some other ethnic
background. I then thought about the divisions between
leaders in our political organizations, religious organizations,
and civic institutions who will not agree to disagree
for the sake of a better Ethiopia. The reality of living
with such hatred is that it robs us of our joy and future
as a country.
All of these realities hit me so much harder after
I saw the solidarity. This brought me to the reality
that the purpose of living in this world is to live
to the fullest of our purposes that God has given to
every person. That nearly always means living with compassion
and commitment for the well-being of others, going beyond
a selfish existence where we focus only on our selves,
those close to us or our families.
This reality of life for Ethiopians in the country
is vastly different than the Ethiopia being celebrated
in the stadium. That “stadium” Ethiopia
is an illusion and any shreds of reality still attached
to it are further disintegrating. As I celebrated with
the bright and hopeful faces of young Ethiopians, I
celebrated their solidarity and joy as I mourned in
my heart for my people back home in Ethiopia. I was
reminded why I am doing what I am. I yearn for the two
worlds to come together.
Wake up and Join the Struggle: Young
People and Women are a Powerhouse
These young people at the stadium already have the
mindset of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and equal
rights between a mix of many people. They have gone
to school in the West and have adopted the thinking
that has formed the West. It now comes naturally to
them without the baggage of the past failures of Ethiopian
society. They know some American people sacrificed in
America for them to enjoy the freedom and opportunity
in the countries of the West. If this huge group of
well-educated Ethiopians could become engaged in changing
Ethiopia, they would be a formidable force for good.
It will take a mindset that is willing to bear another’s
burdens as a God-given opportunity to stand in the gap
for their fellow countrymen and country women. Do they
have the compassion and commitment to join the struggle
for the future of Ethiopia? I think so, for if they
do not, the Ethiopia they celebrate in such solidarity
will continue to only be an illusion of what could have
If they join their elders, along with the women, and
challenge these politicians with what is really on their
minds and hearts or if they tell them to stop this division
or if they confront leaders who are going in the wrong
direction to change or to step aside, they would have
a tremendous impact.
At the same time, these new attendees could learn about
the real Ethiopia and what happened to wreak havoc on
Ethiopian society. It would open up the possibility
of creating the solidarity of the stadium in Ethiopia.
We have much to do if we are to create this healthy
environment at home.
Even think of simple first steps. Imagine if the 20,000
or more attendees at the stadium would give just one
dollar for the advancement of Ethiopia or to the starving
children in Southern Ethiopia right now! With a group
effort, they could build provide food, agricultural
support, clean water, a hospital, a school, an orphanage,
invest in developing private enterprise opportunities
in the country or advance human rights and democracy
Young Ethiopians should not underestimate themselves.
There is so much they could do to build respect, unity
and reconciliation between people. They should consider
taking on the cause of justice and human rights.
This is not about taking political sides. The youth
can help older Ethiopians understand the meaning of
working together in harmony without prejudices. Those
older in the community should not protect them from
the truth of the situation. Only then will we be able
to realize the dream of a New Ethiopia!
May God guide and empower us to serve others.
The next article in few days will be about my experience
going to Union Station where nearly three thousand Ethiopian
young people came together to meet, have fun, listen
to music and to dance. I surprised many by attending.
I met many young Ethiopians there. As I talked to them,
I learned much from them. It was the highlight of my
I cannot get it the idea out of my mind about what
could happen if this young, talented, energetic and
well-equipped group of Ethiopians awakened to take part
in our struggle for a New Ethiopia.
My question was, can we help them bridge the gap between
these two disconnected worlds—Union Station and
I am sharing these thoughts with you so that we, with
help from our Almighty Creator, might bring these dreams
into reality in Ethiopia, transforming a barren and
harsh desert into a lush, spring-fed garden that could
bring long-lasting sustenance and tranquility to the
soul of Ethiopia—we the people.
Isaiah 44: 18-21
This is what the LORD says—Forget
the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I
am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not
perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams
in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals
and the owls, because I provide water in the desert
and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people,
my chose, the people I formed for myself that they may
proclaim my praise.
Please do not hesitate to email me
if you have comments to: Obang@solidaritymovement.org