"The midget emperor" (አፄ ጎደሎ) and injustice

By Geletaw Zeleke / November 27, 2010
 "Ethiopians can never be reconciled to a dictatorship that maintains itself by brute force alone." Prof Al
The time was Christmas Eve. I was riding in a mini-van taxi from Kotebe City in Addis Ababa across town to Mexico City to visit some friends for the holidays. I sat next to a man in his late 60s who wore an old cap and had a long thin beard that he stroked while lost in thought. The familiar character sighed over and over and I wondered what could be weighing so heavily on his mind on such a festive evening.

I called out to him “Father”, as we customarily call elder men in Ethiopia. “Are you not okay?” I asked in our native Amharic. His reply took me aback when he shot out that nothing was okay in my generation. “What do you mean by my generation?” I asked. He sharply replied that as he would soon be taking his final rest he worried for my generation.

As we rode along our conversation grew slightly less personal. “My son, there are four people in my family, and my monthly wage is only 200 Birr.” This amount equaled 20 dollars in Addis Ababa at that time. “I had hoped to buy some meat from the butcher, but the meat was so expensive that I couldn’t afford it. Things are getting worse and worse.” After saying this he shook his head from left to right and then returned stroking his beard and staring off in the distance. His words left a greater impression on me as I glanced at the empty basket sitting on the floor by his feet.

Once he returned from his meditations he continued to tell me about how much he had struggled over the recent past decades. “My family and I used to be able to get by on my salary, we could even buy our own livestock, now I can’t even afford to buy a kilogram of meat from the butcher.” He continued to talk about the past and how what was supposed to be his golden age had been replaced instead with memories of what used to be. “My children haven’t been able to find jobs of their own but I do not blame them because the era is no good.” I just listened and reassured him that the majority of Ethiopians are experiencing life like this.

After an uncomfortable silence I shot him what I considered to be a question for discussion. “Well then, who do you think is responsible for this failure?” He stroked his beard once again and watching his face I could see broken emotion and deep despair on his eyes. He said, አፄ ጎደሎ Atse Godolo.” It means the "midget emperor." “Who is he?” I said half jokingly. I am not familiar with this King in Ethiopia’s history. He didn’t answer but instead raised his hand and asked the assistant driver to let him off. He sang out “Atse Godolo” over and over again as he got off the bus now holding his empty basket. I will never forget the way he hunched over as he went out of view. His song and his worries still echoing in my mind.

Since then I have often wonder what it is that now-a-days Ethiopian leaders lack. I have come to the conclusion that the most important quality for a leader is to have justice in their heart. A good leader can’t stand to see suffering. A good leader hates injustice and tries his hardest to bring just practices to life. The source for good leadership is having a good conscience.

As that wise old man calls them "አፄ ጎደሎ" Atse Godolo “the current Ethiopian leaders have completely lost their passion for justice. Whether possessing knowledge of law, philosophy or political science or having expertise in economics or management nothing can replace the importance of having justice in the hearts and minds of good leaders. Knowledge without justice can be destructive. As we have seen in the past world leaders who have left scars of history had lost this important element of leadership.

If you ask current Ethiopian leaders they say it takes a long time to bring about democracy. This argument shows that these leaders do not have a thirst for justice. This is why we see such huge inequality in Ethiopia today. There is no justice at the heart of the Ethiopian ruling party; from the very beginning they have shaped their politics by ethnocentrism.

When we view the history of South Korea we see that they brought about a democracy in 20 years. The first free and fair direct Presidential Election took place in 1988, near the same age when the current Ethiopian government came to power. The current president Lee Myung Bak is the fifth democratically elected president. In Korean law one president can stay in power for only five years. The Korean example proves that mature democracy can be created in less than 20 years.

Nowadays the people of Korea are enjoying the fruits of democracy. Why not Ethiopia? In 20 years South Korea has built independent courts, independent police, free press and all the other functional democratic institutions that Ethiopia retards. In 20 years South Korea rivals countries which took hundreds of years to develop. Why not Ethiopia? I believe that the growth of democracy in South Korea is not the result of economic growth but instead the result of politicians having been committed to progressive change while preserving the justice in their hearts and minds.

When we view the history of China we see that they grew their economy without the hindrance of a Democracy. Economic growth is not a guarantee for democracy. While China is experiencing economic growth this growth does not have a significant impact on the appearance of a democracy. Today China has a thriving economy but they are not a democratic country.

When we talk about democracy we are talking about justice. In the real world democracy is the practical face of justice. To realize a democracy politicians should thrive on justice. When we look at the Ethiopian example justice is crippled and Ethiopia’s democracy is regressing as a result. TPLF/EPRDF has been in power for their 20 years, long enough of a time to bring about democracy. However, within this quarter of a century they have admittedly failed and instead injustice is more and more apparent as banally seen in the example of weakening democratic institutions and increased poverty, hatred, and desperation.

Nowadays, Ethiopia is experiencing unfair economic distribution, ethnocentric politics, inequality, ethnic tension, deprivation and poverty, loss of trust. These phenomenons are indicators of the absence of justice in TPLF/EPRDF leaders.

Injustice is a disease and it damages the entire social system that inevitably brings about the weakening of Nationalism and of course it can finally destroy the country. Therefore, Ethiopians should stand together putting their ideological differences aside to get rid of injustice and to rescue Ethiopia.

The writer can be reached at geletawzeleke@gmail.com