Democracy: Liberty, Security, & Prosperity

Archive for July, 2012

Today I became a Muslim

Posted by Jawar on July 29, 2012

Girma Anwar Tadesse *

I am a Christian, in fact moments before sitting to write this I was in a Church worshipping my God. Nonetheless, like any peace loving person I was more than touched by the discipline of the Muslim protests in Addis Ababa(Finfinne). A peaceful protest and to add to that a silent one. How more peaceful can one be than being quiet? Muslim brothers and sisters, by keeping silent you spoke a thousand words. As journalist Mesfin Negash put it, you showed that ‘silence is the new loud’. I am not only impressed but also proud of you. 

To Christians and non Muslim Compatriots

A direct call has now been put in our direction. A Muslim brother requested in a very candid letter for Ethiopian Christians to support their cause. I want to extend his appeal even further to followers of all other religions in Ethiopia. And here’s what you can do. Spread the word. Ask your Muslim friends and co-workers what their problem is. Ask them if they need your help. Show them your support and solidarity, because while Christian or Waqeffata by faith you are also a human being just like your friend. Some are fathers and others are mothers just like you. They have children they care about. They love their family and work. They suffer from poverty and lack of freedom just like you. Many are youth who want to worship and pray to God freely just like you. Just like you they also love and demand peace. That’s not an aspiration limited to Muslims, Christians or Ethiopians. It’s a basic human need and right everywhere in the world. There’s no shame in demanding religious freedom. Nothing is unconstitutional about it. And hence there should not be any shame in supporting that cause. It is by no means an act of terrorism but rather a dedication to and love for one’s own beliefs, values and culture. That’s why being a Christian I declare that today I became Muslim! It’s not a declaration of changing my religion but a gesture of solidarity with Muslim brothers and sisters while they are asking for their most basic human right. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his famous letter “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

To Prime Minister Meles Zenawi

I’m not sure if you ever read a letter from fellow Ethiopians but I don’t think there are more important things than listening to the voices of your citizens. 

It is unfortunate that most Ethiopians have little clue about your health situation or where you are. We don’t even know for sure whether you are alive or not. For the sake of your family I hope you are. I have a father your age and I can imagine the emotions your children could be in at this moment. If you are alive I assume that you realize the country’s health is also in a grave danger as we speak. It is worth noting that Ethiopia’s leaders before you had unfortunate ending. They either died ungraceful deaths or in the case of your immediate predecessor escaped to save his own life. More significant, the country was invariably left in a messy situation and has yet to witness a smooth transition. You have the opportunity to turn history in the right direction. That rare opportunity to make amends where your government has gone completely off base with respect to democracy and human rights. While a darling of the West you have become a monster figure for the majority of your citizens. You have worked so hard to earn the West’s approval but we the people you lead should have been who you needed approval from. It is high time you gave this country sincere attention in whatever time is left for you. Lest you forget a certain Haileselassie you revolted against was a media sensation abroad too, and you know better than I do the internal state of the nation while outside he was being portrayed as a saint from heaven.

The fate of Ethiopia’s future is still in your hands even when you are ailing. After what you have been through in the past weeks (or months) I am certain that you and your ardent supporters will consider the legacy you leave behind. Why don’t you mend that by allowing people to practice their God given rights of practicing their religion freely? It would be your gain to let them solve their own problems without the interference of your cadres. It would save your image to free political prisoners and allow freedom of speech. All you have been asked is for you to implement the constitution you helped write and you so advocate. And what a legacy that would be.

To Supporters of the Regime

In most cases it is understandable why and how you started supporting TPLF/EPRDF. EPRDF promised democracy, justice, free press and removal of a dictatorial regime in Durgue. And it did begin to show signs of introducing those rights and values. However, 21 years have now passed and let’s sit back and see where we are today. Where is democracy in a lone person opposition parliament? Where is justice in imprisoning political dissent and journalists? Where is free press by shutting down all opposition and independent media outlets? What do you call a man that outlasted a preceding dictator by four years and counting? So, I ask, what are your justification to continue supporting this regime?

As a young boy, little aware of a revolution taking place in town, I recall that famous May 28, 1991 radio announcement: it began ‘bisot yeweledew…’, a revolution borne out of grievances. That first revolutionary announcement is more relevant today. There is no doubt that the leaders of your party fought for the same rights that they are today denying to people of Ethiopia. They are now on the verge of creating another ‘bisot yeweledew’ generation – a frustrated youth by lack access to modern technology, basic freedom and employment opportunities.

It is obvious that every regime has its supporters. Haileselassie had feudals that lorded over a dispossessed peasantry to protect their interests. Mengistu had his militia and cadres that killed to extend their power. But when all is gone they were left to be embarrassed and ridiculed by the rest of the society. Today you are under the radar. Like the leaders of your party you also have a chance to reverse the course.You can demand from your leaders very basic things such as why government interferes with religion, why government will not only tolerate others speaking their minds but also abuses and locks them in, why a country three times the population of our neighbor Kenya has only ETV as opposed to Kenya’s half a dozen? It may sound foolish or naive to suggest that you will speak against the current regime. Dr. King says in the same letter I quoted above that “privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily”. However, it is in your own best moral, political and economic interest to act now than when it is too late. With no strong opposition movement in site you can fight to bring back democracy and make history all over again. 

It has been said that Ethiopia has shown signs of rapid economic growth but undeniable facts remain behind those figures, the veracity of which is contested. Amid sky-rocketing inflation, most Ethiopians live under extreme form of poverty. The flattering economic data accounts to a few rich individuals and companies, most of whom are directly or indirectly related to TPLF. Let’s not forget also that GDP figures are inclusive of money generated by foreign investors for whom the peasant’s land is sold for next to nothing as they are being forced off with no consideration of their future or the resources. We all know where that money goes in the end. On the other hand, in search for political or economic freedom, our youth today are fleeing their home and congesting immigration offices all over the world. That is if they are lucky to get there alive. What is happening to the unfortunate ones along the way is an open secret. Many of those remaining at home are in desperate state of high unemployment and indecisive future. 

You may not see it coming but that desperation leads to demand for a change. The hidden voices will soon speak and the voiceless will win again. You have the option today to stand on the right side of history. You are a witness more than anyone that ‘bisot yeweledew’ generation will not be stopped by any amount of force or wealth. 

To the Opposition Leaders 

Do you even care about what’s happening in your country? Where are you when you’re called upon? Are you still waiting for USA and Europe to usher you in? Your lack of leadership, clarity of thought, egos, and unwillingness for a coordinated struggle with unity of purpose should not be neglected as a contributing factor to the failed democracy in the country today. Trust me when I say that if you do not deliver and if you decide to stay detached, you will not escape the wrath of history. You are so good at the blame game, but now it’s your turn to reflect and ask yourselves what you have achieved so far. 

To Muslim Friends

Your silent voices are being heard. You are encouraged to continue your peaceful struggle. Do not be destructed by any motivation for violence. As I heard from an Imam, Islam is a religion of peace and so it should remain. My faith, Christianity, teaches that the road of truth is difficult but one worth the journey. That is the path that leads to lasting freedom and salvation. Your determination to continue in the difficult peaceful struggle will pay huge dividends in the end as opposed to one lead by violence that deceives to relieve immediate anger but leaves pain that won’t heal easily. Don’t be deceived by divisive propaganda. Stay your ground. 

Today I am a Muslim in support of your call for freedom. And so I will be until you attain your God given rights.

Girma ‘Anwar’ Tadesse
July 23, 2012
*A native of Addis Ababa, the author is an engineer based in the United States of America and can be reached at girma.tadesse@gmail.com for comments.

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