Ethiopia and election drama

By Yilma Bekele

What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? Some of us cannot move without our first cup of coffee while others require a good breakfast. How about if you went to bed without dinner? I am sure you woke up a few times hungry, you did not have a good restful sleep and it is possible your rest was disturbed by all sorts of dream and nightmare due to an empty stomach.

Food is primary. Food comes first. Without food there is no you. Without food there is no life.

Food is what is lacking in our country. Food has been lacking in our country for eternity. We are famous for not having enough food. Our name has become synonymous with hunger. When you say famine the word that comes to mind is Ethiopia.

Why is there not enough food in Ethiopia? We are lazy? No. Our people are known to farm from sunup to sundown. Farming is a family business. Our land is dry? No. We have plenty of rivers flowing out of our highlands north into Egypt, East to Somalia and west to Sudan. We don’t have enough land. No. We have plenty of virgin land waiting to be developed. We are over populated. No. We have enough land to sustain twice our current population. We are stupid? No. Our dispersed citizens all over the world are proof that we are one clever people that will settle anywhere and thrive.

Thus we are not lazy, we have a beautiful fertile land, we are not over populated and we are not mentally challenged people but we are still hungry and cannot survive without a handout. Why?

There is not enough food because we are not using our resources intelligently. Did I just say resources? As soon as I said resource you automatically thought of mineral or oil or such commodity. No, we have resources more precious than that. The people are the most important resource of a country. We have not figured out a way to harness the abundant resource of eighty million souls in front of our eyes. That, in a nutshell is our problem.

It is nice to have minerals and oil. It is good to be blessed with a vast population. But by themselves they don’t mean much. There is a third important factor that makes the two work in harmony. It is a vital part of the equation. It is what we have been lacking for a long time. That is what we don’t have.

I am glad you asked. What is lacking is good governance. It is enlightened leadership. That is what is missing in our country. Our country goes back thousands of years. Our Ethiopia is not a recent phenomenon. We have such visionaries as Tewodros, Yohanes and Menelik. They have been gone a long time but their legacy still lives.

Today we are lost. We are like a vessel without a pilot but driven by the wind. We stumble from port to port. We travel without knowing our destination, we plan without knowing what we want to achieve and we fail time and time again. We are accustomed to leaders that avoid responsibility. They excel at blaming others for their mistakes and lack of vision but they have this remarkable ability to shake accountability.

Here is a quote from a classic Chinese text (Tao TeChing) written around the 6th. Century BC about leadership:

The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their people,
And their people become unfaithful to them.

When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.

We don’t have that do we? Thus we go hungry. We roam the earth looking for a place to settle. We despair for our country and we fight each other. Whether at home or in a foreign land we have no harmony. There is no peace among the children of Ethiopia. We celebrate our differences and magnify our contradictions. We are one sorry nation.

The way we are going about building our country is not a wining formula. We all know it is not going to happen. You cannot fit a square inside a circle. You can try, but it won’t fit. My son used to try that when he was two. One week with that toy and he figured it is not going to happen. He did not force the issue. He learnt. Here we are responsible adults and we are still trying to fit a square inside a circle.

We are at it again. The current farce billed as an election is bringing out the worst in us. We are stuck with a Party that is unable to let go. It survives from day today. It survives by creating contradiction among its people. It stumbled into power without a clue of what to do with it. It has been improvising for the last seventeen years. It lacks what the American refer to as ‘Exit strategy’. I am sure the TPLF leaders would love to go into the sunset peacefully. Sit back and enjoy their ill-gotten wealth. How is the burning question keeping Ato Meles and company awake at night. Their belly is full but their mind wonders.

Think of it this way. Ato Meles his family a few of his friends can leave. How about their entourage. What is going to happen to the junior abusers that have been doing the actual dirty job? It is a very interesting situation. Lack of ‘exit strategy’ has been the Achilles heel of dictators since time immemorial. Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, Augusto Pinochet, Mobutu Sese Seko, Alberto Fujimori, Nicolae Ceausescu and so on have all been victims of that simple but vital concept. They always get caught with their pants down.

After all is said and done we are back to square one. Waking up hungry. Fourteen million Ethiopians are in a state of constant famine. Twice that number wake up hungry everyday. When it comes to our children it is said that those that are mal nourished (starved) during their developmental phase, the deficiencies are recognized to have the potential for permanent adverse effects on learning and behavior. A nation of mentally challenged is the outcome.

Everything is inter related. You cannot have food on the table without a good governance that requires a visionary leader. You cannot have a visionary leader without a democratic elections that weeds out the wheat from the chaff. You cannot weed out the chaff without an open transparent competition for the citizen to judge. So we go around this vicious circle we have created.

What do you think the current election is going to accomplish. Definitely it is not going to separate the chaff from the wheat. Why? Because it is all chaff. The wheat knows better. It is going to sit this one out. TPLF is going to win. Medrek will be allowed one hundred seats. The Europeans and the Americans will bless the outcome with ‘some’ reservation. Ato Meles and company will celebrate their emerging democracy.

The Ethiopian people will watch the drama somberly. The hunger will continue unabated. The migration of the young will be accelerated. The sale of our virgin territory will gain momentum.
All is not lost. It might look hopeless but every contradictions carries its own solution. Didn’t the divine Haile Sellasie regime crumble due to internal rot? Didn’t the mighty Derge wither away due its arrogance and abuse? The same fate awaits the criminal TPLF regime. I will leave you with what Tao TeChing said about rebellion:

When rulers take grain so that they may feast,
Their people become hungry;
When rulers take action to serve their own interests,
Their people become rebellious;
When rulers take lives so that their own lives are maintained,
Their people no longer fear death.

When people act without regard for their own lives
They overcome those who value only their own lives.

There will come a time when the people no longer fear death.

FORUM | AMHARIC