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Happy New Year Birtukan Invictus (Unconquered)!

Alemayehu G. Mariam

The great Nelson Mandela said, “In my country we go to prison first and then become President.” He assured the masters of the apartheid system, “You may succeed in delaying, but never in preventing the transition of South Africa to a democracy.” On the occasion of the Ethiopian New Year (2003) celebrated on September 11, I contemplate the words of Mandela as I admiringly think of Birtukan Midekssa, (Ethiopia’s No. 1 political prisoner and first ever political party leader), and the prospects of Ethiopia’s eventual transition from dictatorship to democracy.

In December 2008, Birtukan’s “pardon” from a kangaroo court conviction was revoked and her life sentence reinstated. She was literally snatched from the streets and thrown in solitary confinement for six months, despite a court ruling that such punishment was a violation of her constitutional rights. She is denied access to visitors except for her aging mother and five-year old daughter, despite a court order granting her visitor access without restrictions. She has been the object of ridicule by dictator-in-chief Meles Zenawi who has characterized her as a “chicken” who did herself in and an idle prisoner sitting around and “putting on weight”.

Mandela said, “Prison itself is a tremendous education in the need for patience and perseverance. It is above all a test of one’s commitment.” It is comforting to know that Birtukan is receiving “a tremendous education” at Kality “Unversity” Federal Prison where she continues to face daily humiliation, isolation, degradation and dehumanization. But Birtukan perseveres and shall certainly overcome. To paraphrase William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus” (Unconquered), for nearly two years Birtukan has been shackled in Zenawi’s “pit of wrath and tears” and faced the “horror” of solitary confinement and degradation without “wincing or crying out loud.” Her “head has been bloodied, but unbowed.” Though she faces the “menace of the years” in prison, she remains unafraid because she is the “mistress of her fate and the captain of her soul.”

It was in prison that Mandela realized the true meaning of freedom:

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

The Prisoner of the Prisoners of Hate, Prejudice and Narrow-Mindedness

It is remarkable how Birtukan’s views mirror Mandela’s. In all of my conversations with her during her visit to the U.S. in the Fall of 2007, (when she led the official delegation of the Coalition of Unity and Democracy [Kinijit]), her Mandela-like compassion and understanding of her jailors and tormentors was instructive and humbling. Like Mandela, Birtukan has steely resolve and unflinching commitment to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. But her political convictions never overpowered her deep compassion for others, including those who continue to mistreat and abuse her. Like Mandela who showed good will to the apartheid masters, Birtukan also shows genuine empathy and understanding for the ruthless dictators who are themselves “locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness”. Like Mandela, that makes Birtukan one of the most unique prisoners on the planet: A prisoner of the prisoners of hatred, prejudice and narrow-mindedness. Like Mandela, Birtukan understands that she must first free the prisoners of hatred, prejudice and narrow-mindedness before she can free herself or her country.

Like Mandela, Birtukan also hungers for freedom. Her hunger for freedom is not just for herself; it is for the freedom of all the Ethiopian people regardless of ethnicity, language, religion and region. Above all, she knows all too well “that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

My New Year’s Resolution

It is customary in free societies to make resolutions for the new year. Accordingly, I pledge to continue to call attention and raise awareness of Birtukan’s unjust imprisonment in the court of world opinion, unceasingly continue to demand her release and the release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia, and urge all freedom-loving people throughout the world to do whatever they can to help secure the release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia.

I am sure that Birtukan’s captors will snicker and giggle at the very idea of releasing her from prison. After all they have declared her release to be a “dead issue.” It does not matter if they giggle or heehaw; the truth about her unjust imprisonment and abject prison conditions will be told and re-told a million times to the world. I also do not believe that prisoners of hatred, prejudice and narrow-mindedness have the moral capacity or basic human decency to set Birtukan or any other prisoner free. Only the “truth shall set her free”; and if Birtukan were to read my words here, she would gently correct me and say: “The truth shall set them free too from nineteen years of solitary confinement behind the locked steel bars and stone walls of hatred, prejudice and narrow-mindedness”.

MELKAM ADIS AMET! HAPPY NEW YEAR! Our Great Sister and Ethiopia’s First Daughter Birtukan Invictus (Ayibegere)! The truth shall set you free!


4 thoughts on “Happy New Year Birtukan Invictus (Unconquered)!

  1. Happy New Year to all Citizens of Ethiopia,

    Dr. Al’s cry for freedom, liberty, and democracy has been so regular & passionate that expecting the same level of commitment from every other Ethiopian is a bit unfair. But the coming of a new year shows a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

    Be as it may, despite all the hoopola about the increasing total domination of the Meles & Co. over our citizens, it is comforting to know that our country still has untapped human resources who are willing & eager to join the forces for change, if given the proper information by an all united opposition guidance/leadership. Talk about a charecter of good leadership, no one in present Ethiopia can match that of our Birtukan Invictus.

    Lady Liberty, in fact, could have taken the easy way out by joining the looting & by attempting to “live good”, regularly hanging-out at Hilton & Sheraton, or by going even abroad like so many of her generation to seek freedom & shelter away from the TPLF’s ethnic empire, instead she chose to stand for the future of Ethiopia, for democracy and for the rule of the law.

    Despite her isolation in Zenawis dungoen, at Kaliti, & despite his ghetto “smart” remark about her being a “chicken”, SHE remains the number one threat to his TPLF castle (clan) of sands. It is no longer a secret that the power of the wind is blowing from East to West and from South to North and certainly it is a matter of time before the day of one man rule or the dictatorship of any party or any group comes to an end for good.

    The word is also out & the hidden treasues under fictitious names & organizations are the talk of town from Brussels to Manila; from London to New York and even from Khartoum to Dubai!. The new year is a time for change. But, no amount of re-shuffling of cadres can stop an idea whose time has come.

    At the home front, look no further, see how the talk (an idea) in Addis has changed from playing football in South Africa to the (airing of ESAT on) torturing of an Ethiopian Airforce pilot/hero in Debre Zeit (Bishuftu), over night, perhaps showing that the sleeping giant is about to rise up. It is no wonder that the Meles & Co had to strike the satellite (ESAT) down, at all cost, including at the cost of shutting down its own single life line (EthioTV) for propaganda!. Keep the flame alive.

    There is indeed a change in the horizon!

    God/Allah Bless Ethiopia & protect its citizens

  2. Thanks again Professor Alemayehu for everything you do for our freedom fighter Birtukan, that you make sure…she won’t be forgotten, and how badly she has been treating by the brutal illegitimate woyane govt. With your effort and few Ethiopians, I hope the whole world come to know our freedom fighter Birtukan, and the thousands of innocent Ethiopians that have been thrown in prison….as the world came to know the South African Freedom fighter–Mandela.
    If the news about the Iranian woman that was accused of adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death was spread around the world in a flash …. Why is the world giving a deaf ear and a blind eye when it comes to people like Birtukan, that is sentenced for life separating from her little girl for insignificant matter by the brutal tyrant Meles? My heart aches and I feel helpless for Birtukan, her little girl, her elderly mother and the thousands innocent Ethiopians that have been locked up in jail.
    May the new year be the end of brutal Woyanes.

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