Aklog Birara, PhD
The December 28, 2011, video on “Ethiopian domestic workers in the Middle East” represents the ugly and inhumane face of uncaring, callous and debilitating governance in Ethiopia today. The voice of the young woman whose cries and pleas moved each one of us represents the agony of the entire society, especially girls and women. They face the brunt of brutality and degradation in the Middle East as well as in their homeland. If this video was in English, it would go viral globally and cause an outrage.
Whether we like it or not, their dehumanization and degradation is ours too. The young woman is brave and bold. She is a 21st century hero as are Yenesew Gebre and the untold number of political prisoners in the country’s dungeons. She put the often ignored question: “What happened to the Ethiopian flag? Where is it when we need it?” She shamed the highest officials in the government.
9. Let us our ethnic, religious, ideological and professional garbs and respond to the plight of Ethiopian females
The cry and plea of the young woman reveals fundamentals that we would ignore at our own peril. Whether Christian or Muslim and regardless of age and ethnic affiliation, Ethiopian domestic workers face the same problem. This is loss of honor, dignity and humanity; and a government that does not stand on their side when the need arises. When they die, they are not buried in their home country: the one last and legitimate claim of citizenship the dead can hope for. It is self-evident that Ethiopian girls and women and the rest of the poor are not the priority of the governing party.
As important, their government is unable and incapable of addressing the root causes that drive Ethiopian youth, professionals and especially females out of their country. This root cause is abject poverty that is close to destitution. It occurs while a few accumulate wealth.
Travesty against Ethiopian girls and women; and the burning of a church are appalling and ghastly enough to worry, Christians, Muslims, young and old alike. Just think again of what leads females to the Middle East. Then imagine what stolen billions could have done and could do to create employment opportunities within the country; and avert continued exodus.
Let me underscore a gentle reminder. Between 2000 and 2009, Ethiopian society lost a well-documented US$11.7 billion. Interestingly, there is some form of correlation between the governing party’s claims of substantial growth on the one hand; and illicit (read stolen) foreign exchange and other resources transfers on the other, the country lost US$3.26 billion in 2009 alone. This is not the place to assess the sources and ultimate destinies of these billions.
In short, I suggest that these billions of dollars that have been taken out of the country illegally or gained through various schemes: human trafficking, contracting, foreign deposits in exchange for Birr, underpricing of goods, ten thousand tons of coffee lost; and so on could have built numerous factories and improved agricultural output substantially.
These billions would have improved access to quality of education, health, sanitation and safe drinking water. They could have been deployed to improve smallholder farming through the provision of better seeds, fertilizers, credits and tools. Instead, the stolen billions enrich a few but severely degrade public confidence in government; and undermine capability and capacity. It is Ethiopian society that loses big time.
Do not expect a broken and corrupt system to fix itself. Do not expect the Ethiopian Anti-Corruption Commission to go after crooks; as you do not expect the Ethiopian Election Board to advance free and fair elections. Those who benefit from a broken system are least likely to protect; let alone advance the interests of Ethiopian females and the rest.
It is therefore hard for me to understand why those who reject a failed system cannot discuss their differences. I suggest that they can and should do this civilly and urgently; if they wish to respond to the cries of Ethiopian domestic workers in the Middle East, the hundreds of thousands who have to buy leftover foods; and the 21 percent who are unemployed. This is why cooperation is no longer an option. Combing forces is not as easy as it sounds. It takes a sense of common purpose and the determination to achieve it regardless of the cost.
Fortunately for us, there are groups and individuals within the country who are sacrificing their lives despite formidable odds. It is these social forces that should motivate each and all to close ranks and march toward the same goal of transforming the system peacefully but systematically. For this to happen, we need to believe in the just cause of the Ethiopian people: the females we saw in the video and others, all of them who are left out of the country’s growth.
This is why Mandela’s enduring wisdom is so critical for each and all to embrace and let go of the politics of, friction, division, animosity and hatred. These traits we get from the governing party. Mandela said, “I never lost hope that this great transformation (the end of Apartheid) would occur. Not only because of the great heroes I have already cited, but because of the courage of ordinary men and women of my country…. 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 (hate). Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”
The governing party divides us on the basis of nationality and religion and serves its narrow interests. What is tragic is that some of us seem to fall into its trap by accepting and propagating the ideology of bitterness and hate among ourselves. These values which some of us in the Diaspora seem to echo should not be ours. They are the governing party’s. We need to do exactly the opposite. Doing the opposite is within our control. If “man’s goodness is a flame” that Apartheid was incapable of extinguishing, ethnic and religious bitterness and division in Ethiopia are concepts and values that we can and should reject and echo across the globe.
To me, this is the plea I heard from the young woman and those who gave her thunderous applause. In another society, her cry would have resulted in an uprising. Ethiopian Christiana and Muslims have a proud history of living and working with one another. They will strengthen these bonds if they experience fair access to opportunities; just, inclusive and democratic governance. They will reject extremist forces and their external backers. The possibilities are endless.
Endemic corruption diverts scarce resources; and will lead to more lost decades. I contend that the Ethiopian people do not deserve more lost decades that emanate from cruel, discriminatory, repressive and oppressive governance any longer. Most of us agree that what the Ethiopian people wish to see is massive transformation toward a just, fair, inclusive and democratic society. How do we do to help them achieve this this in practical terms?
10. Let us do everything to sway the young generation of Ethiopians away from the avalanche of corruption that envelopes the society
Corruption is decimating Ethiopian society to the core and is injecting a potentially catastrophic culture of greed, intense and unhealthy rivalry for economic and political resources and power among youth. If this trend continues, greed, dishonesty, theft, self-centeredness, nepotism, illicit outflow of funds and so on will persist for generations to come. Ethiopia will remain poor. Income inequality and uneven development will be more pronounced than before. Generations of Ethiopians will be forced to flee their country in search of opportunities abroad. The assault on Ethiopian females in the Middle East and elsewhere will not stop. Only the richest and most powerful few and their successors will thrive and govern the country by any means necessary. What then is the alternative? The simple answer is to work diligently and collaboratively for the sovereignty of the Ethiopian people. But there is more than we need to do.
The current system will do all in its power to replace itself with successors that emulate it. Opponents need to counter this by identifying, training, mentoring, guiding, enabling and empowering a new generation of leaders in all sectors of national life and within the Diaspora. This new generation must reflect the country’s diversity: nationality, geography, religious, ideology, culture and gender.
To be continued.