Confessions of an Ethiopian-American blogger or notes of a native son on tyranny?
This commentary, perhaps confession may be a better descriptor, has been long in coming. Why have I written lengthy weekly Monday commentaries for many weeks without missing one week? Why are my “commentaries so long”? Why am I so critical of the ruling regime in Ethiopia and hypercritical of the policies and actions of its late leader Meles Zenawi? What do I expect to realize with my weekly commentaries? Why do I do what I do? I even have heard these and lots of other similar questions over the years. My readers are entitled to answers that are truthful, honest, forthright, and with none purpose of evasion. (An early warning: This commentary are going to be longer than my usual “long commentaries”. I hope you’ll bear with me.)
First, some extent of clarification. Though I “blog” hebdomadally, I consider myself a “chronicler of and pamphleteer against tyranny”. Before the “Age of the Blog”, there was an excellent tradition (genre) of “pamphleteering” and “chronicling” by men (and a couple of women) of strong opinion who shared their observations of their times with the broader community, with an eye fixed for preserving the record for posterity. I should wish to think that my weekly commentaries repose on that time-honoured tradition using modern information technology. I like better to call my commentaries “Blogphlets” (more about my neologisms later). I hope my blogposts will inform this generation of Ethiopians and offer future generations a “chronicle” of tyranny and oppression in our times from the attitude of 1 man irrevocably committed to speaking truth to the deaf ears of ignorant tyrants.
Let me explain briefly how I got involved within the “blog please ring” business (a little bit of a saying, eh?). Within the early 1990s, I served as a senior editor for the monthly Ethiopian Review Magazine and contributed occasional pieces on various topics. Until 2005, my interest in Ethiopian politics was marginal and principally academic and scholarly. For the preceding three decades, I had not only physically detached myself from Ethiopia but also psychologically. It had been such a lot easier on behalf of me to write down off Ethiopia than to write about Ethiopia and Africa. It just seemed only too hopeless to be –famines, civil wars and corruption that had metastasized within the African body politics. Buffoons, ignoramuses and criminals were riding high within the saddles of power everywhere Africa. It had been heartbreaking and dispiriting.
I found an excellent topographic point from the Ethiopian and African reality within the American cognitive state. There I and my fellow academics could self-righteously pontificate about injustice, oppression, inequality, poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption, all the –isms and even human rights within the exquisitely abstract language of the law and academia. We were privileged to elucidate away and nicely sweep within the pages of educational journals and books all of Africa’s problems. Few folks had the courage or inclination to directly speak truth (even scholarly ones unvarnished by “scientific” jargon) to abusers and misusers of power.
From the highest floors of the cognitive state, I followed events in Ethiopia from time to time but always with nonchalant intellectual detachment. I knew little or no (and didn’t care to understand much) about the late Meles Zenawi and his regime. I used to be generally indifferent and viewed Meles and his crew with benign neglect. During the 2005 election, I became more attentive. I used to be impressed by Meles’ apparent commitment to wash competitive elections. I used to be astonished by the wide opening of political space which facilitated energetic political participation by opposition parties, civic society organizations and human rights advocates. I used to be impressed and excited by Meles’ rhetoric about democracy and thought that he may indeed be the “new breed of African leader” that Clinton and Blair had been talking about. It even crossed my mind that Meles might be that historic transformational leader Ethiopia had been expecting of these decades. (Call me naïve; I don’t mind.)
My re-invention as a blogger-cum-Ethiopian human rights advocate was fortuitous and unforeseen. The 2005 post-election massacres of unarmed demonstrators by security and police forces under the direct command and control of Meles Zenawi and therefore the incarceration of opposition, human rights and civic leaders and journalists created a “perfect storm” in my life. A politician Inquiry Commission established by Meles himself definitively established in 2007 that Meles’ troops had massacred 193 unarmed protesters and wounded nearly 800 others. It had been a contrast in irony on behalf of me and a historical reminder. It dawned on me that the Meles Massacre of 2005 was much worse than the infamous Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 in apartheid South Africa where police slaughtered 69 unarmed black protesters and wounded 180 within the township of Sharpeville. The Sharpeville Massacre shook the conscience of the planet in 1960; the Meles Massacres of 2005 barely raised an eyebrow. Perhaps this might offer you insight into the volcanic outrage that also simmers in me. Today, a minimum of 237 named and identified killers within the massacres still walk the streets in Ethiopia! Their victims cry put for justice from the grave.
The Meles Massacres forced me to question deeply the social and political responsibility of Western-trained African intellectuals, particularly Ethiopian-Americans like myself. I pondered what I should wish to call the “Freireian Paradox” (from Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”). Freire argued, “Education either functions as an instrument which is employed to facilitate the mixing of the younger generation into the logic of this system and convey about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and ladies deal critically and creatively with reality and find out the way to participate within the transformation of their world.” What am I to do? Become a “scholarvocate” (the scholar as a person’s rights advocate)?