Opinions that Will Make a Difference
August 14, 2007.
In one of his songs, Teddy Afro, one of Ethiopia's younger singers, tried to present Ethiopians as Neghede-Israel. That is to mean, roughly, Israeli tribe. Even though singing is viewed to be entertainment driven, a reflection of ignorance in it may not add any extra value to it at all.
In his recent article with an intellectual depth, Obang Metho of the Anyuwak Justice Council, revisited his experience in Ethiopia. After highlighting how he faced bigotry by his Ethiopian acquaintances against his identity, he asks himself if he should give up his rightful place and run away because of that. His own answer is a no and that is because he believes he should instead educate those people who do not know the equality of all humanity and that degrading others comes out of their own sense of inadequacy, not his.
In a recent newswire, Mr. Meir Sheetrit, Israel's current Interior Minister, is reported to have said "Who wants them [Ethiopians with Jewish ancestry]?" He added, "They are all Christians. We need to take care of the future of Israel and this immigration bill never finish." The "Ethiopians with Jewish ancestry" started to immigrate to Israel in 1991 under controversial circumstances.
In what has been called by some observers as virtues of ancient Ethiopian culture, Professor Ephraim Isaac, a retired Ethiopian Harvard scholar, led an effort to mediate between the current Ethiopian government and jailed leadership members of one of Ethiopia's main political parties. In the process, he has brought to the surface one of Ethiopia's cultural values: Those who ask for forgiveness are heroes and those who forgive are saints. Capital, a weekly Ethiopian newspaper, wrote: "As Ethiopians we have learned the important lessons from this episode in our history." It continued, "The most obvious one is that we have returned to Ethiopiaís ancient traditions of mediated solutions."
Al Mariam, a professor of political science at California State University in San Bernardino, California, doesn't seem to buy into Ethiopia's ancient tradition when he calls it "an ancient and anachronistic institution." To disagree with the mediation process because of political differences in this specific case is one thing. However, to characterize the cultural institution in this way is another. Apparently, Profs Ephraim's and Al's views of the institutions seem to be as far away from each other as are Harvard University in Cambridge and California State University in San Bernardino.
In what appears to be bitterness and soul searching, Dr. Fikre Tolossa wrote an article recently about his assessment of the impact of "Western" education on Ethiopian intellectuals. He made some interesting points about how the disconnection between Ethiopian students and Ethiopia's age old values were being set in motion in the recent past. However, his assessment failed to make distinction between the pursuit of knowledge by all humanity and localized disconnections from the self. He presented one of the sources of Ethiopia's disconnection with its ancient civilization, recent church mythology, as the cradle of Ethiopian civilization.
At the 4th International Conference on Ethiopian Development Studies, James Swan, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, noted that U.S. Embassies and their offices in the Horn of Africa are working to demonstrate the U.S.'s respect for different faith traditions and to promote its commitment to religious tolerance. Mr. Swan also noted the Horn of Africa as "a region where Muslims and Christians coexist and intermingle, and where the cultures of ancient Ethiopia, of traditional Africa, and of the Arab-influenced coastal regions have combined in different ways to create unique national and regional identities."
A group of Ethiopian rappers have produced a song about going back to Ethiopia. The message in their song seems to tell stories about their experiences in the Diaspora. What they probably forgot is that they were singing in a new language, rap, that they have acquired in the Daispora, and the people they are talking to are not well versed in this new language, and we are not sure if they are ready to learn and understand it.
Overall, this quick survey shows that many appear to see that we can go back to the root of Ethiopia's ancient civilization, except in the case of Professor Alemayeu; Al is a shortened form of Alemayehu not Albertís, in this case, Prof Ephraim said he has not changed his Ethiopian citizenship after having lived in the U.S. for about 45 years. There are enough opinions that will make a difference if tapped wisely. The question of how to do that falls on a wide spectrum. Yet, such a general shift of paradigm shows one more reason to hope for the better in the future in that part of the world. That will be another contribution to the world. After all, available scientific evidences show that that part of the world has the longest experience of human evolution.