By Yilma Bekele
It looks like we are all upset. All our independent Web sites are headlining the news. It is the main conversation among our people outside of the country. Mere language is not enough to describe our profound displeasure with the Libyan ruling class. Our anger knows no bounds.
What exactly is getting us so hot and boiling with righteous indignation? It is none other than the report by CNN regarding our daughter/sister Shweyga Mullah and her ordeal as part of the Gadhafi household. To begin with it is highly possible that Shweyga is not even her name. In the scheme of the unfolding story it is not even important but it is part of the story. How she got Libya is another breath taking tale all by itself. I assure you she just did not buy a plane ticket and flew into Tripoli. If she did she is an exception. Any way those two factors are not my focus here.
Our collective reaction is my interest in this horrific story. I am not surprised by the reaction of free people in the West. It is news to them. Stuff like this does not happen every day. I don’t mean to say there are no bad people in the US or Europe. I am sure incidents like this do occur everywhere. But I believe it will be fair to say they are isolated and very infrequent. Now when it comes to us Ethiopians why do I get this feeling that our anger is a feeble attempt to cover up our indifference to all the injustice that surrounds us?
I am not trying to belittle what happened to Shweyga. It is ugly and beyond my ability to understand the dark side of human nature. I am glad she survived her ordeal. Anti-Slavery International has set up a fundraising page on their Web site to help pay for her medical needs. The mental scar will take a long time to heal. Please go and give what you can. That is saving one human being. It is a beginning.
What I want to focus is the circumstances that made a young girl leave her village to be a maid thousands of miles away from home? She is one among the tens of thousands that roam the Middle East in search of a better life. Many stories have been told about their trials and tribulations in the hands of some that do not know the meaning of Human dignity or Human Rights.
Tezeta, Senait, Matente, Etsegenet are not just names. They are Ethiopian maids in Lebanon that committed suicide within a twelve days period in October of 2009. Tezeta jumped from a third floor, Senait from a balcony, Masente hung herself and Etsegenet jumped from the seventh floor. Those are our women. Our boys don’t fare any better. December 2008 twenty Ethiopians, January 2011 eighty, April 2011 sixteen, May 2011 forty Ethiopians drowning in the Gulf of Aden is just another boring story.
When asked about the situation in Tripoli this is how our rulers reacted. “The government of Ethiopia will make every necessary effort to bring the victim from Libya and get her due compensation for the damage,” Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Dina Mufti said on Thursday. You see what I mean. The horror is reduced to monetary compensation. No rage about how dare you do this to my citizen! No indignation and demand for justice! Pound for pound we must be the cheapest humans.
We are abandoned people. The government thinks of as cash cows to be abused at home or exported abroad for remittances. We have no place at home to turn to for justice. We have no Embassy or Consulate abroad that we call our own and turn to incase of emergency. We as a people are full of rage. The gist of the matter is in my humble opinion we are unable to direct this rage to construct a new reality that will ensure that there are no Shweyga in the future. In the end that is the only thing that matters.
Why do you think Ethiopians are the preferred maids in the Middle East? The answer is very painful. It is because we know how to suffer in silence. Our capacity for absorbing injustice and abuse is beyond comprehension. It is part of our culture. It is part of our up brining. The Gulf Arab knows that. We are afraid to challenge authority. Be it our own parents, a village chief or the Prime Minster we submit willingly. The most increadable aspect of this situation is that we think of it as a virtue. We keep quiet and justify it by saying silence is golden. We whisper but complain of not being heard.
Our government knows that too. Our leaders work very hard in stripping the little self-respect we might have every opportunity they get. They did not invent something new. They did not have to. They just used better knowledge to manage us. Every new technology is exploited to enhance our sense of paranoia and drive a wedge between us. Our ignorance is cultivated and fed back to us. I am not blaming others for our failure to stand up. I am blaming myself for going along with it. It is not what others are trying to do to me but rather it is all about what I am doing to myself.
We all have the capacity to do good or bad. For every Nelson Mandela within us there is also Adolf Hitler competing for attention. The seeds of good or evil are in us. The question becomes which of these seeds are each one of us going to water and cultivate. It is a choice we have to make. Shweyga is our face. Our girl is far away from home. She is afraid and confused. She is lost like us. Shweyga’s skin damage will be repaired by the Doctors. Even her mental scar will heal in time. But there are millions of Shweygas out there. Our indignation should be channeled to make sure there are no more. That requires a deeper look into our selves. If we want a lasting solution we have to look at the root cause of all this dark cloud hovering on our home land. As Henry Thoreau said “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”