Ethiopians united can never be defeated!

By Prof Alemayehu G. Mariam / February 10, 2009
What Is Ethiopian Unity?

There are some who are working double overtime to make sure Ethiopia is strewn across the African continent like shards of broken ethnic glass. They have spent the last 18 years sleepless devising ways of defeating the people by separating them along ethnic, religious, cultural, regional and class lines. Now, we say emphatically: “Enough! Not This Time!” This is our time to come together and unite against a divisive, dastardly and devilish dictatorship. This is the time to stand up and declare: “Ethiopians united can never be defeated!”

But what exactly is the “unity” which makes Ethiopians invincible? In its purest form, Ethiopian unity is a “soul-force” or “truth force” that dwells within the heart and mind of each patriotic Ethiopian and impels him or her to take a personal and public stand for the indivisibility of the Ethiopian nation under God and the one-ness of the Ethiopian people.

This “truth-force” has many manifestations. As a state of mind, it signifies the indisputable principle that every Ethiopian has the right to vote for the government of his/her choice and to live in a country where human rights are fully respected and the rule of law reigns supreme.

As a form of political advocacy and action, Ethiopian unity means working together on a common set of goals while respecting our differences; uniting around a common vision, agenda and dream and making a personal commitment to work with others on the basis of trust, honor and love of country.

As a spiritual experience, Ethiopian unity is about praying together -- regardless of our faith -- for the end of tyranny and dictatorship, and the blossoming of true brotherhood and sisterhood in equality, liberty and the rule of law. Ethiopian unity is quintessentially about working together to build a future based on the firm belief that the next generation of Ethiopians will not be victimized by a succession of dictators who cling to power by means of arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, political persecution and stolen elections. It is ultimately about living free in a land where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream!

Unity Does Not Mean There Are No differences

Ethnic division is an ugly fact of Ethiopian history nurtured and refined to its highest political form by the current dictators. One can not run away from it. But Ethiopian unity does not mean the complete absence of differences. The United States of America is “united” not on the basis of uniformity of culture, religion, race, class or ethnicity. Rather, diversity is the glue that holds Americans together. Americans from all walks of life live harmoniously under the rule of law which guarantees their individual rights to personal autonomy, ethnic and cultural identity and independent political activity. It is in the American melting pot that Americans of all backgrounds join hands to “form a more perfect union.” A unity where there are no differences is unnatural and unhealthy. Differences are to unity what alloys are to steel. Likewise Ethiopian unity must be forged in the hearts and minds of free men and women of all ethnic, cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.

The Power of ONE: Each One of Us is a Unifying Force

Gandhi taught, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” If we want to see a more just and equitable society in Ethiopia, a country where the rule of law is supreme and where government fears its people, each one of us must act. Every Ethiopian is power for good or evil. We have to make the choice to be a force for good. By every thought we contemplate and act we perform, we can bring about greater unity and harmony among the people. This is a burden of responsibility we carry for ourselves now, and for the next generation. The power of one for good or evil can not be underestimated. We have seen for nearly two decades how one man with a small group of henchmen has been able to destroy an entire nation. What we must also see is that many individuals working together can heal the wounds inflicted upon our country and set it on course to its glorious destiny. Everything begins with the one: One step begins a thousand mile journey. One tree starts a forest. One bird heralds the arrival spring. One candle illuminates the enveloping darkness. One voice can speak for thousands. One hope, one dream can raise the spirit of millions. Each one of us has the Power of One. Let’s use it for the good of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people.

Understanding the Adversary and Extending an Olive Branch

What have we learned from the last 18 years of dictatorial rule in Ethiopia? What can we learn from the 2005 elections? How can we build coalitions to help advance democracy, freedom and human rights in Ethiopia? The last 18 years have taught us many lessons. We know that the current dictators of Ethiopia are politically and morally bankrupt, and have no legitimacy in the eyes of the people. We know their raison d’etre (reason for existence) is to cling to power by any and all means necessary. They have proven that they will lie, cheat, rob, steal, kill and do whatever it takes to keep themselves in power. We also know they thrive in a culture of corruption. Politics to them is the business of corruption. The dictators also know basic truths about themselves: They are despised by the vast majority of the people. They know after 18 years of misrule, squandering the country’s scarce resources on wars, useless projects and mindless adventures and social experiments they have little to show for it. (Recently, the World Bank reported that Ethiopia has been lagging in its infrastructure development [that is facilities, services and installations needed for the functioning of a society], as compared to other African countries.) They know they have committed so many unspeakable crimes that they dread the advent of that inevitable day when they will be held to account. They know they will never be able to win in the field of free political competition. The international community knows who they are too: war criminals, human rights violators and international outlaws. The ultimate truth about our adversaries is that they will employ a scorched earth policy if they believe they are at risk of losing power. For them it will be the old après moi le deluge (after me, the flood; or the Amharic equivalent of the donkey’s byword that she does not care if tall grasses never grow after she is gone.) For nearly two decades, they have used ethnic division to consolidate their power, and they will not hesitate to use the same strategy to dismember Ethiopia on their way out.

But there is also another truth we must know: Not all of those on the side of our adversaries are truly our adversaries. Our adversaries are not necessarily a monolith, a single block of rock. It is true that the ruthless crooks at the top are carved out of the same granite of corruption, cruelty and criminality. But there are many who just live under the dark shadow of this rock out of simple survival. They pretend to support the dictators, but in reality, they are sick and tired of living under the long dark shadow of the hard rock of dictatorship. They do not want to be the object of irrational hate, contempt and ridicule by their countrymen and women. They too want to live in peace and harmony with their brothers and sisters. We need to extend olive branches to each one of them so that they do not feel trapped in circumstances over which they have little control, and make it possible to join the true cause of democracy, freedom and human rights. It is not necessary to scare or humiliate them and push them deeper into desperation where they see only one option: go down with the dictators. We need to reassure them always that we bear no malice towards them, but we condemn unreservedly any intentional illegal and immoral acts they may have perpetrated against their countrymen and women.

How Do We Practice Diaspora Unity?

Unity is a combination of dialogue and action. It is fundamentally an affirmation of our humanity before ethnicity, nationality, political party, Africanity or Ethiopianity. The strongest form of human unity is based on unity of thought around principles of truth and justice. We demonstrate unity in the actions we take in our personal lives and how we treat and relate to each other; that is, in our ability to build relationships based on authenticity (the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character) and not ethnicity (looking at the world through tribal and cultural lenses). Practicing unity means focusing on issues and ideas and not personalities; not dwelling too much on the wrongs that have been done to us in the past but how we can heal each other in the future; adopting evidence-based thinking instead of reacting emotionally; thinking before acting and always maintaining a personal policy of openness, honesty, fairness and respect for each other. Practicing unity is also about not acting in certain ways: refraining from soiling the names and reputations of those who struggle with us in the cause but may not agree with us on everything; avoiding rumor-mongering; not insisting that we have a monopoly ownership of the whole truth; and refusing to walk a mile in the shoes of those with whom we disagree. None of us is naïve enough to believe that we can get beyond our differences, whatever they may be, in a single political event; nor do we believe that the removal of dictatorship will be a cure-all to all of our problems. But it is necessary now to begin working together for a better future without embracing the weighty burdens of our past, or becoming its helpless victims. That is why we must embrace the audacity of hope and act selflessly to help the Motherland.

The Power of Dialogue: Out of Many Voices, ONE

The national motto of the United States declares, “E pluribus Unum” (One Out of Many). Our motto for Ethiopian Diaspora dialogue ought to be, “Out of Many Voices, One.” Coming to one voice will not be easy because there are too many echoes reverberating across the canyons that divide Ethiopians and keep us needlessly apart. We must bridge through genuine dialogue the ethnic canyons, the generational canyons, the culture canyons, the gender canyons, the language canyons, the religious canyons, the class canyons and the urban-rural canyons. We need many bridge-builders to sign up and begin working on laying the foundation for a robust Ethiopian democracy based on truly free elections, respect for the rule of law and human rights, the establishment of an independent judiciary, the free functioning of an independent press and civic society institutions.

The power of Ethiopian Diaspora Dialogue should not be undervalued. Unity of thought in dialogue must precede unity of collective action; and the power of dialogue is the power of reason and the power of honest and authentic communication. The Ethiopian Diaspora Dialogue, we believe, has started everywhere. Many are in the beginning stages. We honor all who have taken the initiative to dialogue and encourage them to continue and intensify their efforts. We are humbly proud to be part of the emerging teams of dialogue facilitators in the Diaspora. We believe “truth-powder” is far superior to our adversaries’ gunpowder. Guns and tanks do not stand behind us. Strong beliefs and ideas about the power of a united Ethiopian people do. And there is no gun or tank that can defeat an idea whose time has come. And the time has come for all of us to work single-mindedly for the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. Ancient wisdom says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with other.” We want to go far with our compatriots on the long journey to freedom from dictatorship. As we do so, we are inspired by Barack’s message to the American people: “For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism…. Or we can come together and say, “Not this time.” It is high time that all freedom-loving patriotic Ethiopians the world over make a choice, stand up and shout: “NOT THIS TIME!” Let’s come together and make 2009 the beginning of a New Era of Unity in the Ethiopian Diaspora. YASTESERYAL!

Ethiopians United Can Never Be Defeated!

The writer, Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. For comments, he can be reached at