What is Next for Ethiopia and the Ethiopians?
July 29, 2007.

As many have already commented about Ethiopia's current political situation, there are meaningful signs that show hope for the country’s future. The recent mediation effort between the Ethiopian government and the former jailed leadership members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) party is a welcome sign.

Changing hope into reality is more meaningful, but more challenging. Yet there are reasons to believe that the challenges can be overcome. A recent commentary posted on Nazret website has the following to say:

"We lived together as a free nation for centuries. We had a magnificent past worth being proud of. New ideas, new theories and new ideologies brought things upside down for us. We experimented with these ideologies and ideas and we saw the result, i.e., chaos, destruction, killings and economic deprivation."

Even though this is not a new observation, the fact that the core of our problems is being paid more attention now by various parties must be one of the signs of hope. Ethiopia has a virtuous past, albeit the fact the name's meaning may not be virtuous since it is a given. For one, it is not in the language of any of the various groups of people who have been living in it since recorded times. Instead, it is based on the Greek language that is a continent away. The only remote connection between the name and any of the languages in Ethiopia is the potential relationship between the terms ia in Ethiopia, which means land in Greek, and biyya (bia), which means country in Afan Oromo (Oromo language). One can get suspicious about a relationship between the two terms in the face of some evidences that indicate humans migrated out of Ethiopia a long time ago. Whether the suspicion about this connection of terms holds water remains to be seen.

Despite the issue around the name, the virtuous history of the people of Ethiopia is well acknowledged throughout the world. Ironically, many of Ethiopia’s current political activists do not seem to understand it deeply as much as the outside world. In a July 18, 2007, press release, the Honorable Congressman Christopher Smith of the U.S. wrote: "In the past three years, I have come to know and admire many people from Ethiopia’s great and ancient civilization …" One would ask how some Ethiopians venture to destabilize it for an unknown future while the outside world is trying to stabilize it. We could also ask how decentralization instead of destabilization won't be a preferred option to solve the country's centralized political system.

The answer may be found in the commentary quoted above, which points to the new ideas, new theories, and new ideologies having influenced Ethiopians for a long time. The “chosen people” concept may have set this importation process in motion long time ago, as Prof. Donald N. Levine observed. In the same token, it won’t be easy to reverse the process for the better. We are not even sure if the tipping point has been reached for this process. We can only see some hopeful signs. One of them is the symbolic mediation process mentioned earlier. Another sign is the increasing visibility of the practice of Oromo wisdom tradition. This is particularly important because it is coming at a time when even Christian scholars such as Darrell L. Bock are calling for a new perspective for Christianity because of the new evidences in the Gnostic gospels. It appears that at least some of the teachings in the Gnostic gospels are some of the core values of Oromo wisdom tradition. Perhaps, this field is going to be vast field of research and may in the future reshape the history of the world.

All these signs suggest that the task faced by Ethiopian politicians will not be any easier than it has ever been. Instead of putting political opponents in jail, careful deliberations on issues to reach consensus wherever possible by taking as much time as necessary should be the habit of our politicians. Wherever consensus is impossible, no one should be afraid of the decisions of the majority. It is far better for the majority group than a dictating minority group to be wrong, and its frequency would be much fewer.

It is true that walking the talk is harder than talking. That is exactly what Dr. Berhanu Nega observed as he wrote in his book that he wrote in jail as a leadership member of the CUD. He has also noted in his book how he got in the business of forming a political organization after observing the experience of Oromo political prisoners that he met a few years back when he was jailed on a different account. Apparently, his first round jail experience exposed him to Oromo political prisoners who played a role in inspiring him to form a new political party that participated in the 2005 legislative elections, after which he went back to jail because of disputes over election irregularities. He mentioned meeting them in jail again, but it is not clear if they have been freed before his group was released or if they are still in jail.

All players may need to ask themselves philosophical questions, as did Birtukan Mideksa, the Vice President of CUD and one of those jailed, according to an interview she gave recently to German Radio's Amharic Service. The answers to such philosophical questions are to be found in the age old cultures of our society. Perhaps, we all need to open our eyes and see what we already have in our backyards. A society that is not grounded on its organic foundation may not stand strong.