December 15, 2013. It is the saddest day of the year for me. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was finally interred with state honors in Qunu, a small rural village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. He spent the “happiest days” of his life there as a shepherd. He returned to Qunu after a long life, a long imprisonment and a long walk to freedom to join his ancestors. The young shepherd of Qunu returned to his final resting place as the revered, loved and respected shepherd of his people. I bid him farewell. May he rest in eternal peace!
December 15, 2013. It is the happiest day of the year for me. I am just outside Washington, D.C. at a town hall meeting to welcome Semayawi (Blue) Party and its young Chairman Yilikal Getnet. I am here to celebrate Ethiopia’s dynamic and striving young people; to honor them and demonstrate my unflagging and unwavering support for their nonviolent struggle against oppression and human rights violations.
In my first commentary of the year, I declared 2013 “Ethiopia’s Year of the Cheetah (Young) Generation”. I promised to reach, teach and preach to Ethiopia’s youth in 2013. I kept my promise.
It is a special privilege and honor for me to be here today with Yilikal. I feel like I have met the chief spokesperson for Ethiopia’s young people yearning to be free – free from ethnic bigotry and hatred; free from tyranny and repression; free to dream, free to think, free to speak, to write and to listen; free to innovate; free to act and free to be free
Ethiopia’s (and for that matter Africa’s) fate hangs in the balance of two generations. As George Ayittey described it, Africa’s “Cheetah Generation” comprises of the “new and angry generation of young African graduates and professionals, who are dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic. They understand and stress transparency, accountability, human rights, and good governance.” Africa’s Hippos Generation, “is intellectually astigmatic and stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch. They lack vision and sit comfortable in their belief that the state can solve all of Africa’s problems. All the state needs is more power and more foreign aid.”
It is a great day today because I, a member of Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation stand together with Yilikal, the leader of the Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation.
I am the foremost supporter of Ethiopia’s Semayawi (Blue) Party, which is a political party of young people, for young people and by young people. Seventy percent of Ethiopia’s population is under age 35. It is an injustice for me to call it a “party” because it aspires to much more than the pursuit of political power. I believe Semayawi Party to be a movement. It is a movement of young Ethiopians from apathy to engagement, from indifference to caring; from selfishness to community concern; from division to unity; from discord to harmony and from bickering and fighting to reconciliation.
Semayawi Party chose the color blue to symbolize their ideals of unity, peace and hope in Ethiopia. Just like U.N. blue symbolizes peace and hope for all nations. Just like European Union blue which symbolizes the efforts of over two dozen states working for a more perfect economic and political union. Like Ethiopian blue symbolizing an Ethiopia united, peaceful and hopeful in the Twenty-first Century.
The Blue Party Movement has only one aim: creating the “Beloved Community” Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about in his efforts to secure human and civil rights for all Americans. He said, “The end of nonviolent social change is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.” Creating the Beloved Ethiopian Community at peace with itself is the reason for the existence of the Semayawi Party Movement.
Creating the Beloved Ethiopian Community will not be easy for Semayawi Party Movement. It requires a lot of preparation and effort. It may be a thankless job but someone has to do it. What can Semayawi Party Movement and Ethiopia’s young people do, think and dream to create their community? I believe Ethiopia’s young and restless Cheetahs could learn much from the teachings of Nelson Mandela, the Wise Lion of Africa. Mandela would tell Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to…
Dare to be great. Mandela would remind Ethiopia’s youth of their historical destiny to create a Beloved Ethiopian Community. He would dare them to be great. “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
Change yourselves first before you change society. He would tell them the old ways of hate and fear must give way to the new path of understanding and reconciliation to create a Beloved Ethiopian Community. They must be prepared to learn. “One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.” They must never hate because “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Hatred is an acquired characteristic. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Keep on trying. Mandela would urge Ethiopia’s youth to keep on trying and never, never to give up on the promise of creating a Beloved Ethiopian Community where the ethnic affiliation, language, religion, region are of no more significance than the color of his/her hair. He would tell them to keep on trying until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” in Ethiopia. He would tell them to keep on trying and never to be afraid to fail, for it is in failure that one finds the seeds of success. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Failure is no vice; failing to try is. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” He’d tell them not to sit on their laurels but to put their shoulders to the grindstone and keep on keeping on because “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
Come together. Mandela would tell Ethiopia’s youth to come together as a youth force to create a Beloved Ethiopian Community. He would advise them that “No single person can liberate a country [or create a Beloved Community]. You can only liberate a country [and create a Beloved Community] if you act as a collective.”
Be virtuous. Mandela would tell Africa’s youth to strive and be virtuous if they are to succeed in creating a Beloved Ethiopian Community. Virtue is moral excellence. It is about striving to do the right thing and doing the right thing even when no one is looking. “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”
Be patriotic. Mandela believed in patriotism and he would tell Ethiopia’s youth that they must be patriots to their people and continent. Mandela said, “I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot.” African patriots threw out colonial masters. South African patriots overthrew apartheid without bloodshed. Ethiopia’s youth must now close ranks to overthrow poverty, ignorance and tyranny and build their Beloved Ethiopian Community.
Be courageous. He would tell them that courage is the essential ingredient in creating their Beloved Ethiopian Community. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Dream big. Mandela would tell Ethiopia’s youth to dream big in creating their Beloved Ethiopian Community. The foundation of their community should be peace, unity and hope. “I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself. If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”
Lead from behind. Mandela would tell Ethiopia’s youth that in building their Beloved Ethiopian Community, they must become “ like a shepherd who stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” He would say, “lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership… Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.” He would remind them very strongly that “Quitting is leading too.”
Expect trials and tribulations. He would tell Ethiopia’s young people that in building their Beloved Ethiopian Community, they will face many trials and tribulations. They will be persecuted and prosecuted, humiliated and dehumanized. In the end, they are assured of victory. “I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists.”
Make peace with your enemy. He would tell them that in creating their Beloved Ethiopian Community, they must reach out, shake hands and embrace their enemy in the cause of peace. “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Fight poverty. Mandela would exhort Ethiopia’s youth that they can never create their Beloved Ethiopian Community when poverty threatens the very survival of millions of their compatriots. He would tell them that they are Ethiopia’s greatest generation and best hope to lift their country out of the bottomless pit of poverty. “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
Never compromise on principles. Mandela would urge Ethiopia’s youth not to compromise on principles in creating their Beloved Ethiopian Community. He would tell them that he struggled all his life against apartheid and discrimination because these evils are the mortal enemies of humanity. “I hate racial discrimination most intensely and all its manifestations. I have fought all my life; I fight now, and will do so until the end of my days…” He did. He would urge them to take a principled and uncompromising stand against hate in all its manifestations: tribalism, identity politics, communalism, ethnic divisiveness, gender oppression, economic exploitation and social discrimination.
Be optimistic and determined. Mandela would tell Ethiopia’s youth to be optimistic in creating their Beloved Ethiopian Community because Ethiopia’s best days are yet to come. “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” Africa’s youth must keep on walking that long walk. They must be Mandela-strong. “There are few misfortunes in this world that you cannot turn into a personal triumph if you have the iron will and the necessary skill.”
Learn and educate the people. He would tell them education is the key to creating their Beloved Ethiopian Community. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.”
Never be indifferent. He would tell them there can be no neutrality in the face of evil and injustice when building their Beloved Ethiopian Community. The only thing more evil than evil is indifference to evil. Evil must be resisted in all its forms. If young people keep their minds open, the truth will reveal itself to them. “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”
No cakewalk in creating their Beloved Ethiopian Community. Mandela would tell Ethiopia’s youth to struggle for their Beloved Ethiopian Community. It will not be a cakewalk. It will be long, arduous and dangerous. “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”
There are many more hills to climb. The effort to create a Beloved Ethiopian Community will take Ethiopian youth over hills, valley and mountaintops. There are dangers that lurk along the way. There will be little time to rest. “I have walked that ‘long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
Always try to do good, to forgive, to reconcile… Mandela would tell them to do good, forgive and reconcile in creating their Beloved Ethiopian Community. They must try without the promise of success; try in the face of failure, doubt and uncertainty. Try even when tired and just can’t go on. Try when there is no hope. Try again after succeeding. Try when it ‘Mandela tried.
Ask not what the Semayawi Party Movement can do for you, ask what you can do for the Semayawi Party Movement… (to be continued).
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: