Bread to the hungry, land to the tiller

Ethiopians have to mobilize once again around the issues that triggered the 1974 revolution
By Abebe Gellaw / January 27, 2011
Let the new march start afresh "Let the incoherent activities end. Let the petty bickering stop. And let Ethiopians unite against poverty, hunger, corruption, injustice, discrimination, humiliation…in their own country. Let the new march start afresh..."
It is a proven fact that those who have been claiming to be leaders of Ethiopia’s quest for freedom, justice and dignity have failed time and again. In Ethiopia as well as in the Diaspora, the self-anointed leaders have only succeeded in being leaders without a cause for their little groups brandishing big names.

The only time we see the “leaders”, or rather the organisers of defeat, scoring points is not against the ruling ethnic junta, but in their destructive civil wars amongst themselves. It is, therefore, foolishness to expect a different result from the same people trying to reconcile endlessly, build fronts, coalitions and forums. As much as TPLF is rejected, Ethiopians need to hold the failed leaders accountable for destroying the hopes and dreams of Ethiopians for change.

The 2005 pro-democracy movement provides a good example of how petty pandering can destroy the aspiration and dreams of a hungry nation. The opportune moment for change was wasted when the “leaders” started dismantling and undermining each others. After lives were lost, limbs and arms were sacrificed, those, who were supposed to lead a nation to freedom, suddenly needed a super-nanny. Amidst the petty bickering and causeless brawls, every popular gain was lost and the hopes of Ethiopians for a better future were reduced to despairs and anger. Of course, reminiscing the past will not help anyone, but we need to draw lessons from the grave mistakes in order to finish the unfinished jobs.

Leaving aside the politics of self-destruction in the so-called pro-democracy camp, every group, be it political or apolitical, should adopt a minimal agenda to press for change in Ethiopia. At this time, the majority of Ethiopians have been saying enough is enough. They are saying enough to corruption, abject poverty, land grab, starvation, discrimination, injustice, inequality and daylight robbery in the name of taxes like VAT that poor people cannot afford to pay for buying a loaf of bread. They are saying enough to the corruption of Meles Zenawi, his wife and their cronies, who are ruthlessly oppressing and sucking the blood of the poor people of Ethiopia.

In the opposition camp, as everyone wants to be a leader, some political groups have even adopted a rotating four-day presidency so that every one of them can become president fo the sake of nursing their sick ego. The minimal agenda should not be focused on who should lead and follow, which is the main reason why the disoriented “opposition leadership” is broken beyond repair. Leadership is not an ego trip. It is rather a call for public service and self-sacrifice.

If at all these failed leaders still aspire to remain relevant, they should unify themselves and the people around an anti-poverty and anti-corruption movement. The majority of Ethiopians are hungry. Eating a decent breakfast has been a luxury. Eggs, chicken, meat, fish, bread, butter…have become luxury items that the poor cannot afford to smell. So why is it that the so-called opposition leaders do not mobilize the people to fight for their dignity and fundamental rights? Some of the leaders are obsessed with regime change without a revolution. They may wait for centuries but that fantasy won’t come true without a serious fight and resistance against tyranny.

During the 1974 revolution, there were two important issues that have unified the nation against the monarchy. Land and food to the hungry were the unifying issues. After four decades, land is not the property of the tiller but the private property of the TPLF junta that has been busy selling land to the rich and foreigners, who are setting up slave-era plantations across Ethiopia. TPF merchants are also showing off their amazing wealth as economic prosperity. They are kicking out poor peasant farmers from their land and turn the natives into their slaves with no guarantee for livelihood to themselves their family.

It is unfortunate to see that some of the opposition groups are so much focused on winning elections that are designed to bring the same result. Thousands of elections may be held in Ethiopia under Meles. We all know the result. Nobody should run in “elections” without free choice to prove a predictable result. TPLF, along with its puppets, take it all. So where is the strategy? Where is the vision for change?

Bread to the hungry, land to the tillerresh Bread to the hungry, land to the tiller
In our country Ethiopia, people are suffering. The majority are not better than those buried with some sort of dignity. Should Ethiopians wait for an election victory for opposition leaders or should they struggle for their basic rights and dignity? This is a fundamental question that needs to be addressed if change is to come and tyranny to be buried once and for all.

The new revolution should be for dignity. People who cannot afford to eat descent meals are only condemned to see their masters get sick from gluttony while they are starving to death. The masses cannot prove the meaning of their suffering. It is due to this fundamental fact that land to the tiller and bread to the hungry should once again become the unifying cause for Ethiopians. These issues transcend the ethnic divisions and political pandering that has undermined our progress and the efforts to bring a better Ethiopia.

John F. Kennedy once said: “I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, human liberty as the source of national action, the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas.” Ethiopians have surrendered their dignity and liberty to unruly and ruthless tyrants and a government of thieves for thieves. It is a God-given right to protest against injustice. It is a constitutional right to speak out and call for dignity and liberty. Ethiopians should not wait for permission from authorities to exercise their inalienable rights. They have to claim their God-given right to live in dignity and freedom.

There are some people who are admirably praying for change day in and day out. Some are devout Christians, some are pious Muslims. But it should be pointed out that even the Almighty will not bring change only through prayers. HE helps only those who aspire and work hard to realise their dreams and end their suffering. So religious unity is also essential to claim their God-given dignity, freedom and an end to injustice and dictatorship.

We should also accept the fact that protests in far away countries will have little impact unless Ethiopians back home start to rise up to defend their dignity. We can march in Washington DC, London or Brussels but we cannot and will not bring about the urgent changes that are needed to end tyranny in Ethiopia. Those kinds of protests from abroad are necessary but should only be seen as backups. An opposition leader said recently that Ethiopians were pinning their hopes on the struggle of their fellow citizens in the Diaspora. But the defeatist sentiment is only indicative of the total bankruptcy of those who were supposed to lead the struggle of the Ethiopian people for change.

Ethiopians have to draw courage from the fresh wind of change that has started in Tunisia. It has now spread to Algeria and Egypt. There are so many tyrants in many parts of Africa that are being propped up by Western aid. These reviled tyrants like Meles must go. History provides sufficient testimony to the fact that tyrants are cowards. They cannot stand the unified voice of their subjects suffering under their boots. By disrupting corruption, people can seriously undermine and dry the source power for the few.

Let the incoherent activities end. Let the petty bickering stop. And let Ethiopians unite against poverty, hunger, corruption, injustice, discrimination, humiliation…in their own country. Let the new march start afresh. Bread to the hungry, land to the tiller…,death to corruption and tyranny…

The writer, Abebe Gellaw, is editor of