By Gizaw Legesse — I read your New Year 2010 Greetings in one of the Ethiopian Websites (tigrai online). It is very thoughtful of you to write to us during these Holidays. You congratulate us for our successes. You decry the manifest ethnic and religious divisions amongst the few educated elites who trace their origins to Ethiopia. You call on us to critically look back to “forty years varieties of inter-group hate-badmouthing and quarrel, fighting and killing”. I commend you for challenging us to do better.
However, as I read you greetings and remembered your involvement over the last two yours, I decided to take you call for duty seriously but to also challenge you to live up to the moral and human values that are reflected in your greetings. I was in particular impressed when you “respectfully ask” us “for the sake of our poor, sick, and illiterate, each and every Ethiopian, especially our political and religious leaders, to set an example of mutual respect and love”.
Having read Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam’s article Birtukan, Invictus immediately before reading your piece and about the many tributes, vigils and campaigns to mark the first anniversary of Birtikan Midekssa’s imprisonment, I questioned the sincerity of your call.
You have tried, admirably, to bridge the divide between the governed and the rulers I gather to bring to an end the sufferings and the hate that are common in our politics and society. This being the case, I wondered why you chose only “our poor, sick and illiterate” as the reasons to establish respect and love between us. I asked, why did the professor leave out those whose life has been adversely impacted not as a result of but with his involvement? I thought you purposefully left out those who lost their liberty, those who were orphaned and widowed because of the political divide that is the source of your misgivings. You forgot those who were killed and tortured for no other reason but for speaking truth to power.
In spite of your good intentions and time and resources generosity, you have failed to live to the standards that bring respect and love – granted not out of malice or naivety. You have not spoken truth to power! You have not called for justice and reconciliation. When the rubber meets the road you and the likes of Haile GebreSellassie have without exception stood with power at a great cost to individuals, liberty and our national character. You have done this not through you actions, or writings, but through your silence. As Edmund Burk aptly put it, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
I could not fathom why you chose to ignore Birtukan and the other political prisoners who are in prison not because they committed a crime but because they told the truth. In particular since you played a helpful role in the release of Birtukan and the other Kinijit leaders, the re-arrest of Birtukan would be an issue of conscience to you and your fellow Shimagles. You were part of the celebrations. You gave a number of interviews. You and Haile Gebre Selassie among others received prizes, and promised to do even more.
When the time came to speak the truth you vanished. When your very work was challenged you succumbed. At the very time your words and deeds could have marked a much desired moral and cultural renewal you, Haile and your fellow shimagles abandoned the high ground.
As it happens just a year to the date of your New Year greetings Birtukan was taken away from her three years old daughter and elderly mother. The government claims that Birtukan denied receiving a pardon. I am certain you know Birtukan has never denied receiving a pardon. The narration of the pardon was the point of contention. You among others know the history of the release process as well anybody. In fact your and Meles’s interviews with ETV (you can see it here: abugidainfo.com) clearly prove Birtukan’s narration was accurate.
Professor, I wonder how a religious leader like you and Pastor Daniel and Olympic Champion Haile GebreSelassie can stay quite when a thirty four years-old mother spends her life in prison? How can you in good conscience call on us to show our respect, and love when you our older brother, heroes, Shimagles do not show respect and love for the truth?
I strongly believe justice is the foundation for love and respect. Without justice there will not be love or respect or peace. As President Obama stated “peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.” I call on you, Haile GebereSelassie and the other Shimagles to “to refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present condition makes you morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confront you.”
Today Birtukan is under the brutal conditions of the EPRDF. However she has defeated the most potent weapon of the EPRDF, not its army but fear. She will survive the TPLF; for she has nothing to fear.
With admiration and respect and for the sake of the imprisoned, the orphaned, widowed and yes for “our poor, sick and illiterate “, I call on you to speak the truth. And truth is the foundation for justice. The road to justice starts by speaking the truth. Happy New Year and I yield the floor!
The writer can be reached at email@example.com