By Neamin Zeleke
Everyone dies, but not everyone lives. Mulugeta Hailu lived. He lived a life of principle. He lived a life of convictions. He lived it with moral courage, in accord to his dreams and ideals much higher than himself. A life of principles lived to the fullest, a lifelong journey, with steadfast endurance, with so much gloom and pain in the process. All that for the betterment of Ethiopians through his life long struggle for the past four decades in order for social justice and equality to prevail in our homeland. He lived it to the last gasp of air on that fateful night, around midnight of Tuesday, May 08, 2012.
Mulugeta Hailu’s sudden death has been a source of much agony and shock to me as much as to countless others who knew and deeply appreciated and loved Mulugeta Hailu. Mule, as many call him affectionately, of course belongs to that generation, the gallant generation that rose up for social transformation of Ethiopia during the 70s. Such characterization alone, however, can’t possibly capture the essential qualities of Mule, the man, Mule, the Ethiopian. Such broad brush hides what kind of a human being he was, how he lived a worthy life as thousands of others like him that belong to that generation . Some have passed away, some have faded, and some have been killed in action during the revolutionary carnage of the late 70s and 80s. Some have continued the struggle to this very day; some others have become willful tools serving the more oppressive, corrupt, and anti-Ethiopia political order that has become a breeding ground for so much injustice and inequality in Ethiopia than the very political system the generation of Mulugeta Hailu rose up to challenge four decades ago.
Mulugeta Hailu, a great soul, faithful to his convictions, has stood his ground thru thick and thin, in a sharpest of contrast to the base, the banal, and the gluttonous that left from his side and that of others to become willful instruments of an ethnocentric tyranny. He has stood his ground indeed with rare endurance and stamina to the last minutes of his life. I know Mule would disagree with my use of such words in describing even his political enemies.
But there are certain qualities of him that one can dare assert that Mule is a rare breed even among that heroic generation. Always dreaming and desiring for a better and humane political order for his people, he never sold or surrounded his soul to the powers that be. Nor did he ever abandon his convictions to trade for the comforts and material gains which he could have acquired so easily with the kind of intellectual caliber, many facets of knowledge, as well as the practical wisdom he was imbued with regard to a the social and economic edifice upon which a post industrial society like the USA has been built. Mulugeta Hailu chose to live, however, a simple life, a modest life, with an unspoken contempt for the glitter that dominates this world that puts premium on gadgets, and all those outward signs and symbols of “success”.
He was an exemplar, a role model in many ways, above and beyond his political activism. Always respectful of all people, irrespective of what and who they are. Always tolerant of opposing views. An inherently humane man, he showed care and love to all who crossed his path, to all his countrymen and women of diverse social stature and age groups. He treated all Ethiopians equally, regardless of political, ethnic, and other differences. He always sought common ground even among contrary, logger head opposed political views and opinions. At other times, Mulu may display that streak of the melancholic idealist intellectual, one who appears deeply in contemplation due to the manifold problems and tragedies of this world and the ever present suffering of humanity all around us. But he was always with that ever present infectious smile on his face and an ever radiating optimism and hope about the future of Ethiopia and our people.
Mulugeta was there at every event, public meeting, and every demonstration calling for Ethiopian unity, for freedom, for justice, and for the rule of law to prevail in Ethiopia. He was there through the freezing cold of the winter , the scorching heat of the summer, and ever present during those countless acts of resistance , opposing and exposing the reigning ethnocentric tyranny that has ruled Ethiopia for the past two decades, as he was there struggling against the previous regimes of various hues. He was there in supporting and organizing so many causes that championed Ethiopian unity, equality, and justice in Ethiopia. He was there when Coalition of Ethiopian Democratic Forces (COEDF) was formed; he was there when United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) was formed.
Mulu was there at the center, during critical junctures and the labyrinth of the political detours, victories and defeats, the multifaceted actions and activities, endless committee meetings and deliberations of the past two decades. He was there before we came nearer to scene of actions; he was there after many of the younger generation like me came to the fore. With rare stamina and endurance to tough out the ups and downs of our struggle, he has been in the struggle for the past 40 years as a member of All Ethiopian Socialist Movement (MEISON). But that was not his most shinning hallmark. Ethiopia and the people of Ethiopia were the drivers for his being. I am sure of that. He stood his ground to the last minute for social justice and equality. These were his primary ideals for his country, for his love for his people and his county stood hovering over and beyond his love and belonging to a single organization that he joined decades ago.
A rarity for one committed to the political and political ideals, Mulu was a self effacing man, never craving for undue limelight for himself or his organization. The ever tranquil, the content Mulugeta never raised his voice, nor did one ever see him lose his cool, even amid the fiercest of political arguments and disagreements. He may disagree with you from time to time, but without being disagreeable. He may debate with you, but without imputing motives for your political opinions, or worse, as most from our not so mature political culture are prone to do, holding grudges against you for expressing political differences. One mutual friend of said the following about Mulugeta “…his unique character as a political personality, was that he never liked to take the center stage due to humility and utmost modesty. I don’t know if his upbringing contributed to his formation. All of us have family members and participated in the struggle for justice in our country. His unique ability was to handle both simultaneously and keep the balance. He raised his brothers and sisters in the absence of a father figure and served as a bridge between family members who would have never met. He maintained and treasured every relationship and showed utmost respect to all human beings. That is what most of us in the left lacked. “Handling of contradictions in a plebian manner.” He is my childhood friend and a blood relative but beyond that came our struggle for a common cause. We chose different approaches as the means to tackle the challenge and followed separate venues. When we met after a long break, we started from where we stopped as if nothing had happened. This required a person like Mulugetta and of course age brought wisdom…”
One with a profound sense of self worth and self respect, yet he was a modest man, a humble man, always a man of the people, ever at home with the average person, with strangers and friends alike. For these qualities, young and old, old timers and new comers alike loved and respected Mulugeta Hailu. A rarity in this day and age. Always active in the life of the community, he was there during trials and tribulations of members of the community. Committed as he was to multitude of community and social causes, he was ever ready to give his helping hand for the needy and for countless causes. Many shall never forget Mulugeta’s acts of kindness and helpfulness. A great bard once wrote:’ I believe in Aristocracy … Not an Aristocracy of power, based on rank, and influence. But an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations, and all classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive to others, they are sensitive to themselves, and they are considerate without being fussy. Their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke”.
We can surely agree with that wise man. Mulu belongs to that class of “Aristocrats of the soul” who have endured so many trials, ups and downs, detours in the labyrinth of forty long years of struggle. Without losing their humanity, living their convictions, living their ideals, doing it with steadfastness, and endurance in order to defeat cruelty and chaos to the end of their lives, despite so many setbacks and disasters encountered in their quest for justice and equality to prevail in Ethiopia as in elsewhere. Sensitive too, with an ability to take a joke, Mulugeta Hailu had them all indeed. Compassionate, respectfull, broadminded and understanding, kind and helpful, a bridge among people, modest and humble, and a man of principles and convictions willing to endure to live up to ideals much much higher than him. Mulugeta was the embodiment of the loftiest and the best in humanity.
Ethiopia has lost one of her bright stars in the struggle for the materialization of the nobler and loftier ideals of humanity on her soil. We celebrate Mulugeta Hailu’s life, for what he lived and died for. We cherish the ideas and ideals he struggled for throughout his life.
Mulugeta Hailu, our brother, we love you, we respect you profoundly. The struggle for which you gave your entire life shall continue and prevail. So long our dear brother and friend.
In the tradition of Mulugeta’s political ideals, I end with the motto A Luta Continua!
May God rest your great soul in peace.