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Humanity before Ethnicity

Challenging Ethnicity as a Free Ride to the Top
The sudden death of Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Abune Paulos, following the disappearance of Prime Minister Meles, and now the rumored illness of General Samora Younis, leaves three unexpected vacuums in the top leadership of Ethiopia.Who will replace them—a tribe or the most qualified leaders?

August 19, 2012
The sudden death of Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Abune Paulos on August 16, 2012 has caught many Ethiopians by surprise. The loss of another TPLF/EPRDF top linchpin must be causing increasing anxiety and fear behind the closed doors of the regime. His death only compounds the leadership vacuum created when Meles disappeared over two months ago. 

On August 17, 2012, information emerged that General Samora Younis, the top leader of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces was taken seriously ill and rushed out of the country for medical treatment, another shocking development that could weaken the regime’s control of the military. The TPLF/EPRDF faces some difficult and anxious days ahead as the crisis of leadership deepens within their ruling party; all worsened by the growing anger, fear and resentment from Ethiopians towards their 21-year long iron-fisted, one-party, ethnic-apartheid rule.

Who could have predicted such a crisis? Not even Meles himself could have planned for such a time as this or the regime would have been more prepared. Instead, under his leadership, the TPLF/EPRDF has eliminated, killed, imprisoned, suppressed or otherwise destroyed most every alternative or competitor from gaining enough strength to challenge him as the “strongman of Ethiopia.” Every legitimate institution has been brought to its knees, unable to operate under such a hostile climate; replaced by TPLF/EPRDF-controlled, pseudo-institutions of pretense so that Ethiopians would be left without hope for change.

In light of this, we in the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), a social justice movement of diverse Ethiopians, formed in 2008 to bring about a “New Ethiopia,” where truth, justice, freedom, equality, respect for human rights, opportunity and reconciliation create the foundation for a healthier, more thriving society, urge Ethiopians to embrace the universal God-given values to honor our Creator, to care about our family, neighbor and nation and to act on it in daily life until we see the dawn of light from a transformed Ethiopia rise up over our nation.

Yet, today, Ethiopia is in darkness. Anxiety is plaguing the hearts of most every Ethiopian as no one knows the future. Who will replace these leaders? Will the only contenders be from one tribe from one region or the country or the most qualified candidates? Ethiopians see no hope that the TPLF/EPRDF regime will change its nature as political space remains completely closed, as communication lines are monitored, suppressed or blocked, as crackdowns on the opposition and peaceful Muslim protestors continue, as the independent media is shut down and as land and resource grabs continue to threaten the survival of our vulnerable people.  

The disappearance of Meles has only intensified the peoples’ anxieties for the future as a vacuum of leadership, which could have promised opportunity for change, remains unexploited because few, even within the TPLF/EPRDF, are prepared to step in. Meles and the TPLF/EPRDF, controlled by him, his family and his cronies, have worked very hard and successfully to destroy any competition. Even foreign partners who have invested in Meles, counting on his continued tight control of Ethiopia, must be highly concerned regarding Ethiopia’s shaky and uncertain future. Now add to it the death of Abune Paulos, who has been the unpopular leader of millions of Ethiopian Orthodox believers—as well as the absence of General Samora Younis, who has been the force of military power behind Meles—and the levels of anxiety over what might happen next only deepen.

In the same way that some have celebrated rumors of Meles’ death or incapacitating illness, some anti-regime enthusiasts may now be celebrating the death of Abune Paulos, believing he served the interests of the regime as he undermined the witness of the church, as well as the most recent news that General Younis might meet a similar fate; however, we should not gloat over the fall of an enemy.

In the case of Abune Paulos, we know this man has now died. When he was alive, he was part of the system of suppression. Like him, we are all born and destined to die. We enter the world without anything and when we die, we leave our worldly titles and possessions behind. His fate will be decided by God; so for us, it is not a time to celebrate his death. God will make the proper judgment for him in the same way He will for all of us. Instead, we should be talking about the future. What should come next and how can Ethiopians challenge the old system of ethnic entitlement with competency-based inclusiveness? This is the time to challenge ethnicity as a free ride to the top!

We know that under Abune Paulos’ leadership of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the church and its religious leaders were divided because many saw his appointment and authority as Patriarch as illegitimate; leading to the formation of a church in exile. He embraced the TPLF/EPRDF plan of ethnic federalism that not only divided the people by ethnicity, but which created a hierarchy of privilege and preferential treatment that benefited him personally as well as others from his own minority ethnic group. His qualifications were not as a highly capable and esteemed spiritual leader, respected by the people and other leaders in the church; but instead, he had to come from Adwa, be of Tigrayan ethnicity and be willing to support the TPLF above all else, including the church, the people and God. His, like all other key positions in the country, are held by persons belonging to one ethnicity. 

A country built on tribal preferences rather than inclusive competency is not only unhealthy and under-served, but it sets into motion a dangerous power-struggle between regime cronies and the excluded “others.” Yet, who is equipped and empowered to intervene to the benefit of all parties? If Ethiopia is deprived of its authentic religious leadership, who will speak to the people about the need for non-violence, repentance, forgiveness, reparations, transparency, accountability, justice, reconciliation, transformation and peace when these same people may be seeking revenge, including violent revenge, after living under the shackles of ethnic-tyranny for the last 21 years? Stealing the legitimate voice of our religious leaders and substituting in its place, ethnic domination, leaves a vacuum of spiritual, ethical and moral leadership when it is most needed. 

The age of “one-tribe-take- all” is dying, but it may not end easily until we pull out the life-support of ethnic-based hatred which has been in a coma for the last 21 years. Along with it must go ethnic-based favoritism, ethnic-based entitlement and ethnic-based revenge that run too deeply within us and our society. It must be replaced with the moral and spiritual transformation which comes from souls that seek God’s righteousness. The only thing that will replace the ethnic-based dehumanization of “others” is a pure heart, not bent on revenge, but willing to forgive, to reconcile, to love, to care and to live in harmony with other human beings, all created by the same God.

Ethiopian Orthodox believers and all Ethiopians, including non-believers, who believe in freedom of religion, belief and thought, have a moral, ethical and spiritual duty to not allow another puppet of the TPLF/EPRDF to become the next spiritual head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. 

Whoever replaces Abune Paulos should not be chosen because of village, family, ethnicity, regional biases or regime loyalty but by qualities of spiritual leadership, enhanced with competency. Now, by what seems to be divinely-orchestrated coincidence, the Orthodox are in the same position as Ethiopian Muslims, all who do not want the TPLF/EPRDF, or any other government—even a good government—to interfere with religious affairs. It is wrong and should be confronted.

Sunday, August 19th is the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, one of the most joyous celebrations in Islam, marking the end of Ramadan, where prayers, meals with family and gifts of charity will be given. This year, we are hearing that the Ethiopian Muslims will be peacefully demonstrating on this day, calling for freedom, the release of their religious leaders, the religious freedom to choose their own spiritual leaders and the right to have their voices heard in Ethiopia. We in the SMNE wish them, “Eid Mubarak,” which means “Have a blessed Eid.” Ethiopians of faith should all pray for them that this non-violent, disciplined and peaceful protest will end without violence from government security forces or from anyone else so that no one is harmed or intimidated for exercising their rights. 

Orthodox and Muslim believers should stand strong together and Evangelical Christians, Ethiopian Jews and people of other faith backgrounds should join them in demanding freedom from an apartheid government; calling, with unified voice, for a better Ethiopia rather than a beggar Ethiopia—a New Ethiopia grounded on truth, freedom, equality, morality, integrity, civility, reconciliation and the restoration of justice for all Ethiopians. The whole country should demand this change because unless we work for it, it will not be handed over to us. This means whoever comes after Meles should not be from the same ethnic group or controlled as a puppet by tribalists behind the scenes.

For example, if Hailemariam Desalegn, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs from Southern Nations, is appointed as the next prime minister or as the transitional prime minister, many believe that the TPLF Central Committee will try to control him from behind the scenes. If in fact he is appointed, let us remind him that he answers to someone who is above all of them—a Sovereign and Almighty God who condemns injustice, oppression, partiality, corruption, bloodshed and hatred. To whose directions will he listen and uphold? Who knows but that God may have put him in this position for such a time as this. If he does not live up to his God-given purposes, God will raise up someone else and he will lose his opportunity!

If God, who is sovereign over nations and their leaders, has removed Meles or others in order to give us a window of opportunity, will we use it rightly? Remember, Meles may be gone, but those who maintained him in power are still there. In the same way, those who maintained and sustained the ethnic divisions between Ethiopians and between Ethiopians and our neighbors are still present. This is our chance as the people of Ethiopia no matter what position we are or are not in. You can change and become part of our society that paves the way to a better future or we can give up the moment through collective passivity. 

We already have that reputation. A western diplomat told SMNE leaders that Ethiopia is an unusual society, different from most any others, because its people are so submissive that the country could function without a leader for months without people rising up—despite living under such horrible conditions. We are not seen as people willing to sacrifice and to sometimes die in order to change the way we live and our legacy of bloodshed and suffering. Instead, this observer felt that despite the absence of leadership, there was nothing to panic about as the country could run in “automatic” even if no one was running country for two months or even longer. Is this true? Are we waiting for someone else to free us? Is this from our feudal past or after TPLF/EPRDF domination or both? Other home-grown observers see it differently and believe some unpredictable factor may force us out of our complacency and into action; particularly if factors like inflation, the lack of availability of hard currency that we are hearing about in the media combine with the leadership crisis.

It is time to prepare for the “unknowns of tomorrow” for when it comes, we must confront it, first as people of shared humanity and then as Ethiopians; not by our differences, but by what unifies us—our homes, the land we all share and the mixed blood of our ancestors that flows in our veins making it impossible to truly identify its sources. 

In order to confront our “tomorrow,” we should all be standing together as one family to demand a New Ethiopia where everyone is included; where “my” justice will not come without the justice of my neighbor. As we demand this, let us not miss the bigger picture—our humanity that we share with the Tigrayan. They are our beloved brothers and sisters; valued and treasured by God Almighty who created all of us. They are us! Yes, those who committed crimes of destruction will face justice, but for anyone else, the New Ethiopia will include all our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in a more humane, more God-honoring Ethiopia. 

It is time to transform—to forgive, to repent and to be willing to integrate with the people of our country, our neighbors and our fellow global citizens. With this in mind; stay firm, stay strong and let us raise the banner of honor to God and our humanity not our ethnicity. As long as we do and as long as see other Ethiopians as part of our Ethiopian family, we will have a future with hope, purpose and blessing that we can pass on to our descendents.

May God bless Ethiopia and prepare each of us to remain alert and ready to contribute our share to the betterment of each one of us and to Ethiopia as a whole for “no one is free until all are free.


For more information, including interview requests please contact Mr. Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE E-mail: Obang@solidaritymovement.org.

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