By Lisanu Tesema – July 22, 2009 — Educated or uneducated, some Ethiopians have little understanding of the relevance of titles and honorific. We have, for instance, Meles Zenawi’s former Ambassador to Kenya. His proper title is Ato, as far as I know. He is currently Zenawi’s speaker of the rubber stamp parliament. On TV, in “parliament”, in private, in public and even in kitchens the man uses “ambassador” as his title and the cumbersome honorific, His Excellency.
This man is none other than Teshome Toga. A recent documentary, a kind of lamentable self-promotion shown on ETV, was even entitled “Ambassador Teshome Toga’s routines in parliament” despite the fact that he is currently serving Meles as a “house speaker.”
If at all “ambassador” is a title that should never kept for life, it should be correctly used as “former ambassador” as he is no longer servicing as head of a diplomatic mission. But to be fair to the man, he is not alone. Former ambassadors of the imperial regime, Derg and the current ethnocratic clan are still stuck in such titles as ambassador, minister, commissioner and the like and some demand to be exalted as such.
Long after their jobs were over, either through defection and retirement, they use this cumbersome “titles” and others meekly call them “Ambassador Teshome”, “Minister Hagos”, “Commissioner Bereket” etc, and the title-obsessed former officials get puffed up. But what the mis-users of personal titles don’t know, or pretend not to notice, is the fact that job titles are not for life.
Honorific, though quite traditional that originated in ancient royal courts, is a recognizable legal title such as His Excellency, Your Excellency, Your Honour, His Royal Highness etc. Even honorific is not title for life but is used in reference to a political office.
Why is it then that people who have left their offices long ago, or defected for that matter, think that they are still holding on to their jobs…still ambassadors, generals or ministers in Ethiopia?
Why are we required to use titles to refer to people, who no longer hold their “beloved” offices, however wrong and confusing they are, for no apparent reasons than just to boost the ego of these former appointees of succeeding bad, dictatorial and unpopular governments that have never served their people well? If they must use these titles and old honorific, they should remind us that they are not currently holding the political offices by adding the adjective former or the prefix ex. That would clear the confusion as well as save the ego of the former diplomats, ministers, generals, commanders, commissioners… who love misusing useless titles and honorific.
There are also others, engineers for life. Normally, engineer is not also an honorific but a job title. However, our older generation still thinks that it is a title and demands us to call an engineer with his job title. Former or ancient engineers use “engineer” as their life time title.
In Ethiopia, time doesn’t go fast. It is slow and change is hard to come by as there is resistance to change. The world is moving faster while we are stuck in tradition. Whoever starts a wrong tradition or a popular mistake, knowingly and unknowingly, is often immortalized when others repeat the mistake forever. But at some point, we need to realize that correction is needed.
Though unrelated to the main point I have raised, I would like to touch upon two examples of perennial mistakes we never tried to correct. It may be a foreigner who misspells our capital city as “Addis Ababa”, which is not only wrong but changes the flower into an old man. Children use “ababa” to refer to an older person. The correct spelling should have been abeba, which is the Amharic equivalent for flower. So which one is Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa [sic] or Addis Abeba? A new old man or a new flower?
The choice is ours as the foreigners who made the mistake did not know the difference.
Anyway, titles should not be kept for life but need to be used correctly as mistakes should also be corrected at one point. Students who never correct their mistakes learn little and may even repeat their mistakes again and again.