Remember Lady Liberty on Mandela Day

By Abebe Gellaw / July 19, 2010
July 18 marks the first Nelson Mandela International Day. It was last November that the United Nations General Assembly adopted a special resolution declaring July 18th an international Mandela day to be observed annually.

Mandela Day is undoubtedly a befitting tribute to a man who spent 27 years of his life in prison. The defunct Apartheid regime had given many opportunities to Mandela, who is celebrating his 92nd birthday, to renounce the struggle and walk out of jail. He never budged and resolutely chose to die in jail than kneel down to one of the most abhorrent systems history has ever known. The General Assembly underscored the fact that the longstanding dedication of Mandela, South Africa’s first post-Apartheid president and Nobel Prize peace laureate, “ to humanity, particularly in the areas of conflict resolution, race relations, human rights promotion, reconciliation and gender equality.”

The world is just trying to pay homage to a man who has contributed so much to transform South Africa from a land of injustice to a beautiful “rainbow nation.” Despite the fact that a lot remains to be done to fully heal the wounds of political and economic injustice, South Africa has managed to become a pride of Africa. The successful conclusion of this year’s World Cup, which was staged colourfully with blaring Vuvuzela horns, is testimony to the fact that South Africa has changed forever.

As South Africans have been enjoying their post-Apartheid freedom, our country Ethiopia, which boasts to be the cradle of humanity and symbol of liberty for blacks all over the world, is still groping in the darkness of injustice. Suffering under tyranny and abject poverty, all the great sacrifices of our forefathers since time immemorial has not still created a single day where all citizens of Ethiopia, regardless of their race and cultural heritage, can hold hands and sing that beautiful slave song: “Free at last, free at last…thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

On this historic Mandela Day, where people across the world honor a great man who has lived long enough to reap the fruit of his immeasurable sacrifice, Ethiopians across the world need to remember our compatriots who have laid their lives for freedom. They are martyrs who deserve to be remembered and honored.

We also need to remember and honor our own Mandelas who have followed the footsteps of those whose exemplary lives have shone and inspired millions across the world. The heroine leader Birtukan Mideksa deserves to be honored and recognized by every freedom-loving Ethiopian. At a time when the deficit of credible leadership have made the struggle of the Ethiopian people devoid of meaning and direction, this woman of extraordinary courage and character needs to be as unifying as Mandela, whose defiance and suffering ignited and fuelled the anti-Apartheid struggle.

Some people may fail to understand the deep meaning of selfless sacrifice. Like Mandela, Birtukan is languishing in prison of the despotic regime just because she refused to kneel down to tyranny and renounce the struggle of the Ethiopian people. She was also given an opportunity to appear on national TV and deny the inconvenient truth to dignify a ruthless tyrant. She chose to die in jail than lower herself to uplift an insolent and sadistic dictator.

There are also others who think that Birtukan showed lack judgement by putting herself and her family in harms way. Yes, Birtukan could have avoided going to jail. Likewise, Mandela could also have avoided spending 27 years of his life in solitary confinement. The reason why Mandela is now considered a hero, even by those who used to chastise and question his leadership, is not for his surrender but for his unyielding defiance against Apartheid.

At a time when so many leaders, who had vowed to lead the struggle of the Ethiopian people have lost credibility, Birtukan remains unique as her vision is clear, her calls unfaltering and her stand still unwavering. During the last 19 years, many of our leaders have spent a great deal of their wisdom, energy, time and resources, fighting, bickering and undermining one another than fighting the inhuman tyranny that has revived Apartheid in our land. Today, more than ever before, the struggle needs not many but one unifying leader.

Whether we like it or not, there is no other leader in Ethiopia who has won the love, admiration and credibility of freedom-loving Ethiopians dispersed across the world. She is the only one who can unify our deeply divided nation. We don’t have to wait 27 years to recognize the fact that Birtukan’s sacrifice is as worthy as Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr.

In one of her speeches, she said she was ready for sacrifice and turned to the audience to demand their resolve. “What about you?” she asked bravely. Now this question is haunting each one of us. Little has been done to mobilize people in Ethiopia and around the world to demand for her release unequivocally and persistently. As South Africans had made the release of Mandela a rallying cause during their bitter struggle, freedom-loving Ethiopians, regardless of their political, ethnic and other petty differences, should be able to recognize the importance of a sacrificial lamb as good as lady liberty.

During the 64th United Nations General Assembly plenary meeting, which adopted the resolution last November, the tyrant’s shameless representative, Mesfin Mideksa, said: “The Ethiopian Federal Constitution was firmly anchored on the principle of according genuine recognition and safeguarding the individual identities and rights, as well as ensuring the full representation and participation of all nations and nationalities in the country.” We know that this is a self-refuting lie echoing the emptiness of an unjust tyrannical regime. Though not related at all, Birtukan and Mesfin, who is paid to lie unlike the heroine, have exactly similar father’s name. But they represent completely contradictory visions. Mesfin represents a lying criminal tyranny that sucks the blood of poor Ethiopians. Birtukan, ruthlessly punished for telling the truth, represents freedom, justice and dignity.

December 28, 2008 is an important day in Ethiopian history. The tyrant ordered his security agents to re-arrest Birtukan and condemn her to spend the rest of her life in jail. He callously declared that Birtukan has a “zero chance” of being released again.

True to her words, Birtukan is Ethiopia’s Mandela! In recognition of her immeasurable sacrifice for the sake of freedom, dignity and rights, let us declare 28th December Birtukan’s day. Until she walks out of jail freely, let us rally and honor lady liberty around the world. Her defiance against tyranny symbolizes the nation’s collective desire for liberty and represents the heartbeats of the majority of Ethiopians, who have been reduced to tax-paying slaves, refugees and prisoners by a tyrannical regime that neither represents nor respects them and their history.

Happy Mandela Day!