The old saying is, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Well, this is my sincerest expression of flattery to the American Declaration of Independence.
On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress (which managed the American revolution and set a course for independence) adopted the Declaration of Independence (more appropriately, issued a call to arms) setting forth facts and arguments to a “candid world” why the American colonies were severing the umbilical cord from Britain.
In my view, the Declaration changed not only America but the “candid world” as well.
July 4 is a special date for me.
July 4, 2016 is a very special date for me.
On July 4, 2016, I celebrate my tenth year in the trenches of Ethiopian human rights advocacy.
On July 4, 2006, I formally and publicly declared my engagement in human rights advocacy, particularly Ethiopian human rights advocacy. Tempus fugit (time flies)!
In a 7,860-word “manifesto” entitled, “Awakening Giant”, I explained why I decided to get involved in Ethiopia human rights advocacy and issued a plea to other Ethiopians to do the same. The “manifesto” was subtitled, “Can Ethiopians Living in America Make a Difference in their Homeland.” (Read “Awakening Giant” Part I and Part II.)
In my “manifesto”, I declared the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia is a struggle to be won “not in battlefields soaked in blood and filled with corpses, but in the living hearts and thinking minds of men and women of goodwill.”
For the past ten years, I have waged a struggle to win the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and people of good will throughout the world in my weekly Monday (and lately Thursday) commentaries (or as some affectionately call them “sermons”.)
I believe we have achieved some success in winning the hearts and minds of a substantial number of Ethiopians in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora, particularly with a vast readership of Amharic translations of my commentaries.
I can say without reservation that the past ten years have been the best years of my life. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to fight for human rights, democracy, the rule of law and freedom in Ethiopia and elsewhere with nothing more than my pen (more accurately, my computer keyboard) every single week (without missing a single week) for all of those ten years.
In the struggle for hearts and minds, I believe the English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton said it best in verse: “True, This! —/ Beneath the rule of men entirely great/ The pen is mightier than the sword…/ To paralyse the Caesars, and to strike/The loud earth breathless! -…/”
Shakespeare was also right speaking through Rosencrantz in Hamlet, “… many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come thither.”
But I followed Thomas Jefferson’s counsel (the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence) to Thomas Paine in 1796: “Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword.”
Paine was a great American patriot who railed furiously against tyranny, defended liberty passionately and preached that the people will ultimately fulfill their destiny by overthrowing the tyrants who abuse and oppress them.
The late Prof. Donald Levine, the esteemed Ethiopianist scholar, used to say that I reminded him a little bit of Tom Paine (author of the “Rights of Man”, among others), the relentless iconoclastic pamphleteer with his discourse of transnational human rights.
In August 2014, I commented on my own commentaries: “Though I ‘blog” every week, I consider myself a ‘chronicler of and pamphleteer against tyranny’. Before the ‘Age of the Blog’, there was a great tradition (genre) of “pamphleteering’ and ‘chronicling’ by men (and a few women) of strong opinion who shared their observations of their times with the broader community, with an eye for preserving the record for posterity.”
So I did what Jefferson told Paine to do and used my pen to do what others do with their sword.
I have been fighting with my pen to make sure the stilled voices of the victims of the untold massacres committed by the late Meles Zenawi and his Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) in Ethiopia, a terrorist organization listed in the Global Terrorism Database, are heard.
I have been a witness testifying for the thousands of political prisoners, journalists and dissidents persecuted by the T-TPLF and the millions of Ethiopians victimized by famine as a result of T-TPLF’s depraved indifference with the collusion of the international poverty pimps who have successfully managed to conceal the biblical famine in the country in 2016.
Marian Wright Edelman, the eminent American activist for the rights of children once observed, “You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.”
I have been a flea in the fur of the mean and mangy T-TPLF junkyard dog for 10 years. We just need “enough committed fleas to bite strategically” on the T-TPLF junkyard dog.
I proudly celebrate my tenth year struggling for human rights in Ethiopia by paying a special tribute to the Declaration of Independence in America.
That is what being an Ethiopian American means to me: To carry the torch that was lit in America in 1776 and shine it on Ethiopia in 2016. (I will explain more in the future.)
On July 4, 2007, I had the honor and privilege of making public the “Declaration in Defense of Human Rights in Ethiopia” which was signed by 74 Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia on petitiononline.com.  (See list below.)
It was a declaration I had the privilege to draft while attending the Second Annual Tsehai International Ethiopian Studies Conference in Dallas, TX. That was a memorable and inspiring conference which brought together Ethiopians from all walks of life to discuss the fate of Ethiopia on the eve of the new millennium (Ethiopian calendar).
It is a “Declaration” manifestly patterned after the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
I have always been inspired by the immortal words in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
I believe that all men and women are created equal by their Creator and that they are born with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The only purpose of government is to protect and preserve these rights.
I believe in a government created by the consent of the people. No government or regime can legitimately claim to have won 100 percent of the votes or seats in an election. But the shameless thugs of the T-TPLF in Ethiopia claimed they won the May 2015 “election” by 100 percent.
President Barack Obama visited Ethiopia in July 2015 and called the T-TPLF regime which claimed 100 percent electoral victory “democratic”.
After I heard Obama lie through his teeth to protect his thugging and thieving friends, I felt like the crestfallen man who had lost his hero in the battle for civil rights. I felt like the bewildered man who lost his hero in a thick forest of lies.
To add insult to injury, in August 2014 Obama assembled a circus of the worst African thugs-cum-leaders at the White House and wined and dined them. I expressed my displeasure in a commentary entitled “Cirque Du Afrique”. I believe those criminals against humanity belong in the jail house, not in the White House.
In July 2009 Obama went to Accra, Ghana and lied to the African people: “Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa does not need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
In 2016, Barack Obama is African strongmen’s best friend for life.
There may be some who may say that I am harsh in my judgment of Obama, the first African American president and have reduced his accomplishments to one area of policy. But I have extolled Obama’s personal and other domestic policy achievements. I have few quarrels with Obama except his Africa policy.
I regard myself a man of principle and ideals, and that is probably why Obama’s hypocrisy has hit me so hard.
In his 2010 State of the Union Address, Obama said, “In the end, it’s our ideals, our values that built America –values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions–our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government–still reflect these same values.”
But in the end what are American ideals that built America?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it…?
Obama betrayed American values when he declared a regime of thugs “democratic” and consorted with the worst African murderers and bloodthirsty cutthroats.
I felt personally betrayed by Obama’s hypocrisy, duplicity and mendacity.
Then, I found solace and comfort in the raw verse of Tupac Shakur: “When your hero falls from grace,/ all fairy tales R uncovered/ myths exposed and pain magnified,/…/ when ure Hero falls so do the stars/ and so does the perception of tomorrow/ without my Hero there is only/ me alone 2 deal with my sorrow…/
What great sorrow to deal with when my hero became a zero by telling a bold-faced and brazen lie to a “candid world”.
History will judge Obama on his Africa policy. Who knows? Perhaps someone will write a book and put Obama’s policy in Africa on trial.
Regardless, I believe in total resistance to tyranny and support absolutely the right of the people to alter or abolish a tyrannical government and institute a new government that is committed to their safety and happiness.
Of course, I am the least of those who have been inspired by the Declaration of Independence.
In the middle of the American civil war, Abraham Lincoln drew moral and spiritual strength from the Declaration when he proclaimed in his “Gettysburg Address” on June 1, 1863, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Fifteen years earlier in July 1848, at the Women’s Rights Convention held at Seneca Falls, N.Y., American suffragist women issued their own moving Declaration of Sentiments inspired by the words of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… Whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness…
In 1853, Frederick Douglas, the African-American social reformer, abolitionist and writer, gave a speech during the Fourth of July celebrations and challenged the core assertions of the Declaration of Independence. Douglas said,
Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony…
In his “I have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed:
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Malcom X denied America had ever practiced the “self-evident truths” proclaimed in the Declaration. He argued Africans “were brought to America and made slaves, and then [given] the name of the slave master” and dehumanized. He doubted the 13 colonies became independent: “The thirteen colonies separated from England but they called it the Declaration of Independence; they don’t call it the Declaration of Separation, they call it the Declaration of Independence. When you’re independent of someone you can separate from them. If you can’t separate from them it means you’re not independent of them.”
Malcom issued his own declaration of complete independence in the call for black nationalism embittered by the fact that “22 million of our people who are still here in America need better food, better clothing, better housing, better education and better jobs right now.”
The Declaration of Independence is not just an American charter of liberty or a manifesto against tyranny. It is a declaration of the ultimate aspirations of humankind in much the same way as the Magna Carta.
The Declaration has inspired countless anti-colonial movements for independence and self-determination in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Mahatma Gandhi’s 1930 “Declaration of Independence” for India was inspired by the American Declaration. Gandhi wrote:
We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it…. We hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this fourfold disaster to our country.
In September 1945 Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam with the following words:
All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.
Ho Chi Minh lived in Boston (the “hometown” of the Declaration of Independence) in his younger years and looked to the U.S. as a model of anti-colonial struggle and national self-determination. He wrote many letters to President Truman asking for help, which were ignored. The Vietnamese nationalist turned communist. The rest is history.
The 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) are inspired by the Declaration of Independence: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…”(Article 1). “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” (Art. 3). “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” (Art. 17).
Kwame Nkrumah (the first president of the first colony in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence) at the inauguration of the Organization of African Union on May 24, 1963 gave a speech that was infused by the outrage brimming in the Declaration of Independence.
Nkrumah told the new post-colonial African leaders, “Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations, unhampered by crushing and humiliating neo-colonialist controls and interference.”
I am proud of the “Declaration in Defense of Human Rights in Ethiopia” and the 74 Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia who signed it.
I suspect for some our Declaration may appear to be a trivial act; a gesture that made no difference.
But as Gandhi said, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
Truth be told, our Declaration is not about altering the course of history, it is about dreams of the future. As Jefferson said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
So it shall be!
Declaration in Defense of Human Rights in Ethiopia, July 4, 2007.
In the history of all great nations, there comes a moment when the people must make a choice that will define them in their own time, vindicate the enormous sacrifices of their ancestors and enable them to bequeath an enduring legacy for generations yet unborn. They are often forced to make that choice by arrogant tyrants who use brute force to entrench and perpetuate their dictatorial rule, and unabashedly proclaim to the world their contempt for the rule of law, democratic principles and civil liberties.
In the history of oppression, tyrants have spared no effort to erode the natural courage of their people and force upon them a life of cowardice and submission, debilitate their natural instincts for bravery and valor and intimidate them into accepting servility, replace their yearning for liberty with false hopes and pretensions of freedom, trick them into bartering their desire to live in dignity for a life of shame and fear, subvert their natural sense of honor, duty and patriotism for vulgar materialism, and corrupt them into selling their fidelity to truth at the altar of falsehood.
In 1776, the American people had their defining moment when they stood up and defended their liberties against a tyrannical king who taxed them without representation, closed down their legislatures and imposed upon them laws made by representatives for whom they did not grant consent. They declared then, as we do now:
“When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, it becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.”
Our Moment to Stand Up Against Evil Rulers and For Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights in the New Ethiopian Millennium in Ethiopia is Here! We Must Act Now!
Ethiopians the world over must now make a choice, a choice that will define them today, tomorrow and in the next Millennium. We must plant the seeds of liberty today so that future generations may harvest its bounty.
We MUST therefore rise to defend freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia against a tyrant who has:
- Connived and made alliances with enemies of the Ethiopian people to break up the country and bargain away its territory.
- Subverted the civil and criminal laws of the land and encroached upon the fundamental rights of the people by denying them due process of law.
- Forbidden the people from speaking freely, assembling peacefully, petitioning government for grievances, and the press from reporting.
- Trampled upon the basic human rights of the people, and flagrantly violated international human rights laws and conventions. Employed the malicious methods of divide and conquer, and dredged up historical grievances to sow hatred and discord among the people. Threatened and made good on his threats to visit violence, intimidation, terror, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and torture and untold privation upon the people. Dispatched swarms of soldiers throughout the land to harass the people and administer street justice against them.
- Refused to step down and leave office after he was overwhelmingly defeated in a democratic election, and rejected by the people.
- Unjustly imprisoned the elected representatives of the people and persecuted peaceful political opponents on false and fabricated charges and crimes.
- Obstructed the administration of justice by neutralizing and intimidating the judiciary to do his bidding.
- Intervened in the internal affairs of neighboring countries and waged war against their people creating lasting and insurmountable enmity.
- Refused the aid of Great Nations to build democratic institutions and institutionalize human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia, and has hired at great expense to the people’s treasury, mercenaries to lobby against such efforts in the Legislatures of such nations, and
- Practiced cruelty and crimes against humanity scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages.
In every stage of these oppressions, the people have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms. We have sought the intercession of international human rights organizations, the Legislatures of the Great Nations of the world and appealed to his sense of native justice, magnanimity and patriotism.
He has sneered at the people’s pleas for justice, scoffed at their petitions for redress of grievances and turned a deaf ear to the advice of the international community.
We, the undersigned, therefore, solemnly publish and declare, that the People of Ethiopia have the God-given right to live in freedom, democracy and human rights, to be free and establish a government that is of their own choosing and consent, and that we shall work tirelessly and without reservation or evasion to:
- Gain the unconditional release of ALL political prisoners of conscience.
- Restore the democratic rights of the people.
- Institute democratic reform and accountability.
- Enhance the capacity of legislative institutions to enact fair and just laws;
- Strengthen civil society groups and organizations and support human rights advocates.
- Cause the arrest and prosecution of human rights abusers, and to bring to justice the killers of 193 innocent men, women and children and wounding of 763 others.
- Increase the independence of the judiciary.
- Establish permanent human rights monitoring and reporting processes.
- Secure the rights of women and promote families as a foundation for a stable society.
- Encourage and engage youth to become future leaders.
- Remove all press censorship, restore full press freedom and strengthen private Media.
- Improve the electoral process to ensure fraud-free elections, and strengthen competitive party politics.
- Limit the use of U.S. security assistance to maintain global peace, and NOT against the civilian population, and
- Work tirelessly to bring to justice all persons guilty of crimes against humanity.
In support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other and to the People of Ethiopia that we will defend and promote, without evasion or reservation, the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia in the New Millennium.
IN SUPPORT OF THIS DECLARATION,
- Alemayehu Gebre Mariam
- Abraha Belai
- Abebe Gelaw
- Kifle Mulat
- Kinfu Assefa
- Seleshi Tilahun
- Mammo Muchie
- Lemlem Tsegaw
- Wondimu Mekonnen
- Shakespear Feyissa
- Ayalnesh Chainyalew
- Amare Gizaw
- Elizabeth Nega
- Seble Tadesse
- Dorothy Amare
- Lulit Mesfin
- Alemayehu Zemedkun
- Azeb Girma
- Meron Ahadu
- Aster Demeke-Hansson
- Zufan Yimer
- Aziz Mohammed
- Elias Wondimu
- Abeba Fekade
- Zenebwork Teklu
- Ghenet Girma
- Daniel Assefa
- Tiruwork Wondimu
- Abebe Bogale
- Maria C. Lugo
- Meaza Gebrewahide
- Joseph M Ciuffini
- Ehite Gebre
- Keif Schiefier
- Bekeletch Assefa
- Neway Mengistu
- Abaynesh Assefa
- Muluneh Yohannes
- Andargatchew Tsige
- Nathan Yimer
- Belaynesh Haimanot
- Berhane Mewa
- Mulu Ayele
- Zeke Ayele
- Fekade Shewakena
- Aklog Limeneh
- Fifi Derso
- Yousouf Omer
- Meaza Ejigu
- Tadewos Beyene
- Aziz Mohammed
- Gidey Assefa
- Belaynesh Solomon
- Haregewein Mismaku
- Hailu Awlachew
- Zemed Yitref
- Berhanu Dinku
- Tsige Moges
- Mesele Alem
- Adam Zerihun
- Girma Dawd
- Yitagesu Weldehana
- Solomon Kebede
- Emebet Solomon
- Abiy Assefa
- Junior Yigzaw
- Tesfaye Sileshi
- Samuel Belihu
- Semou Zinabou
- Girma Kassa
- Mekdese B. Kassa
- Tariku Badama
- Binyam Yinesu
- Tesfaye Letta
July 4, 2007