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Ethiopia Youth

Ethiopia: The Sun Also Rises

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

Creeping Youthbellion and Youthvolution in Africa and the Middle East

“When the sun rises, it rises for everyone,” goes the old saying. The sun that rose over tyranny in North Africa will not set at the edge of the Sahel; it will shine southward on the African savannah and rainforest. The wind of change blowing across the Middle East will soon cut a wide swath clear to the Atlantic Coast of West Africa from the Red Sea. The sun that lifted the darkness that had enveloped Tunisia, Egypt and Libya for decades can now be seen rising just over the Ethiopian horizon. The sun rises to greet a new generation of Ethiopians.

Today we are witnessing a second African independence, an independence from thugtatorship no less dramatic or volcanic than the upheavals of oppressed peoples that overthrew the yoke of colonialism one-half century ago. In 1960, British PM Harold McMillan warned his fraternity of European imperial powers: “The wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”

The wind of change that has kicked up a sandstorm of youth rebellion and revolt in North Africa has laid bare the ghastly facts of oppression and youth despair to global consciousness. Arab and African youths are crying out for freedom, democracy, human rights and equal economic opportunity. The vast majority of the uneducated, under-educated and mis-educated African youths have no hope for the future. Legions of Arab youths with college degrees, advanced professional and technical training waste away the best years of their lives because they have few economic opportunities. They too see a void in their future. African and Arab youths have had enough, and they are rising up like the sun to liberate themselves and their societies from the clutches of thugs. The outcome of the youth uprisings is foreordained. As Sam Cooke, the great pioneer of soul music sang, “It’s been a long, a long time coming/ But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will…”

But there are some who cynically argue that the type of volcanic popular uprisings sweeping North Africa cannot happen in Ethiopia. They offer many reasons. They say the thugtators in Ethiopia have used every means at their disposal to keep the people benighted, divided and antagonized. They point to the primitive state of information technology in Ethiopia as proof of a deliberate official strategy to prevent Ethiopian youth from accessing the Internet freely to learn new ideas and create cyber civic societies. (Ethiopia has the second lowest (after Sierra Leone) internet penetration rate in Africa.) They say Zenawi has bought off the best and the brightest of Ethiopia’s youth with cash, jobs, special educational opportunities and privileges just to keep them off the streets and happy as a clam. (It seems Ethiopia’s youth are a pressurized powder keg.) They say Ethiopia’s young people (who comprise the majority of the population) have no frame of historical reference and that Zenawi has brainwashed them into believing that he is their demi-god and savior. (It is possible to fool some of the youths all of the time, but it is impossible to fool all of the youths all of the time.) They say Zenawi’s vast security network of informants, spies and thugs will suppress any youth or other uprising before it could gather momentum. They say Zenawi has permeated the society with so much fear and loathing that it is nearly impossible for individuals or groups to come together, build consensus and articulate a unified demand for change. They say Zenawi has created so much ethnic antagonism in the society that he can cling to power indefinitely by playing his divide-and-rule game and raising the specter of genocide and civil war. Regardless of what anyone says, Zenawi has made it crystal clear what he will do to cling to power. He will “crush with full force” anyone who opposes him electorally or otherwise.

The Survival Principle of Thugtatorships

African thugtators will do anything to cling to power. Hosni Mubarak used a state of emergency decree to cling to power for three decades. When he was deposed from his Pharaonic throne, there were 30,000 political prisoners rotting in his dungeons. Ben Ali in Tunisia did as he pleased for nearly a quarter of a century. Gadhafi’s actions in Libya today offer a hard object lesson on what thugtators will do to cling to power. He continues to use helicopter gunships and MiG fighter planes to bomb and strafe civilians. He is using his private army of thugs and mercenaries to commit unspeakable violence on Libyan citizens. He has offered to buy off Libyans for $400 per household and pledged a 150 percent increase in government workers’ wages if they stop the uprising. They told him “to immerse it in water and drink it” (or “to stuff it…” in the English vernacular.) Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, has threatened to dismember Libya and plunge it into a civil war and “fight to the last minute, until the last bullet, until the last drop of my blood.” Gadhafi is doing everything in his power to cling to power. The only unanswered question is whether he will resort to the “chemical option”. On March 16, 1988, toward the end of the Iraq-Iran war, Saddam Hussien used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Halabja killing thousands. Will Gadhafi use chemical weapons against Libyans in March 2011 as his regime comes to its long overdue end? Whether Zenawi will follow Gadhafi’s scorched earth policy to cling to power remains to be seen, but careful analysis of his actions, public statements, interviews, speeches, writings, ideological perspective and the irrepressible and self-consuming hatred he has publicly displayed against those who have opposed him over the past 20 years suggests that he will likely follow the tragic wisdom of the old aphorism, “Apre moi, le deluge” (After me, the flood).

But thugtators, trapped in their bubbles and echo chambers, often overestimate their prowess and abilities. “Brotherly Leader” Gadhafi thought he was so powerful and the Libyan people so cowardly that he did not expect in his wildest imagination they would dare rise up and challenge him. He was proven wrong when Libyans broke the chains of crippling fear Gadhafi had put on them for 42 years. Gadhafi thought he could prevent Libyan youths from communicating and coordinating with each other by shutting down social media such as Facebook. Libya’s young revolutionaries proved to be more creative; they used Muslim dating websites to coordinate their activities. Now Gadhafi has completely shut down Internet service in the country believing he can control and distort the flow of information coming out of Libya. Gadhafi’s murderous thugs and mercenaries have been repelled time and again by a ragtag army of Libyan shopkeepers, waiters, welders, engineers, students and the unemployed. Despite Gadhafi’s talk of tribal war, Libyans have closed ranks to wage war on thugtatorship. After 42 years of ignorant ramblings in the Green Book, Gadhafi and his Jamahiriya (“republic ruled by the masses”) are in their death throes.

The Bouzazi Factor

Mohamed Bouzazi was the young Tunisian who burned himself to protest Ben Ali’s thugtatorship. Bouzazi’s desperate act became the spark that created the critical mass of popular uprising which has caused a chain reaction throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The tipping point for change in any country cannot be predicted with certainty. In Tunisia, Bouzazi was literally the “fissile material” that catalyzed the popular uprising. In Egypt, a number of factors worked together to get rid of Mubarak’s thugtatorship. The young Egyptians who led the revolt were well educated and tech savvy and used their knowledge to organize effectively. The Egyptian military maintained neutrality and opposition elements were able to build consensus on the need to remove Mubarak and his henchmen from power after three decades. In Libya, the people just had enough of a raving lunatic running their lives.

Change is a universal imperative and it will come to Ethiopia as it has for its northern neighbors. The coming change in Ethiopia may not necessarily follow any existing template. It will originate from an unexpected source and spread in unexpected ways. The tipping point in Ethiopia will likely revolve around three factors: 1) the clarity, truthfulness and persuasiveness of the message of change delivered to the people, 2) the unity in the voices of the messengers who deliver the message, and 3) the context in which the message of change is communicated to the people. Simply stated, a convergence of democratic forces and a consensus on a clear message of change is necessary to create a critical mass for change in Ethiopia.

Overcoming the Fear Factor

The one common thread in all of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East is that the people overcame their fears. The thugtators waged decades long campaigns of psychological warfare to instill fear and loathing in the hearts and minds of their peoples. For decades, the people believed the thugtators to be strong and invincible, untouchable and unaccountable.   Recent evidence shows that all thugtatorships have feet of clay. The moment the Libyan people unshackled themselves from 42 years of crippling fear — the kind of fear President Roosevelt described as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance ” — they were able to see Gadhafi for what he truly is — a thug. Ditto for Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. Change came to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya not because the thugtators had changed but because the people had changed. They were no longer afraid! They found out the true meaning of the old saying, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”

The Hubris of Thugtators

Thugtators believe they can cling to power by eliminating their opposition, and particularly those who helped them get into power. They ward off potential challengers by keeping their military weak and appointing their cronies and henchmen to leadership positions. They believe they are loved, respected and admired by their people. Gadhafi said, “All my people love me!” They don’t. They hate him. Gadhafi convinced himself that all Libyans are happy under his rule.” They are not. Libya has a Sovereign Wealth Fund of $70 billion and nearly as much has been frozen by the American, British and Swiss governments. Yet the vast majority of the 6 million Libyans have difficulty making ends meet. Gadhafi has squandered much of the oil money buying arms, financing terrorists, seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction, giving it away to other countries to increase his prestige and paying blood money for acts of terrorism he personally ordered. He paid $3 billion to the survivors of the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in which 270 people died. Zenawi said he won the last election by 99.6 percent because the people love his party. They “consider themselves and the EPRDF as two sides of a coin” and “nothing can ever shake their unwavering support for our organization,” he said in his victory speech last May. He congratulated the people for “giv[ing] us the mandate through your votes” and patronized them for their “high sense of judgment and fairness” in voting for his party.

Regardless of what thugtators say or do, they will always remain weak and anxiety-ridden because they are in it for the money and not to serve the people. State power is the means by which they pick clean the economic bones of their countries. Thugtators are incapable of anticipating or understanding the need for change. Because they lack a vision for the future and the courage to do what needs to be done in the present, they are always swept away in a flash flood of popular uprising as Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gadhafi have found out lately.

Foolishly Riding the Tiger

President Obama needs to realize that it is not enough to talk about being “on the right side of history”. The U.S. must first do the right thing. For the Obama Administration to talk about “regime alteration” instead of regime change in the Middle East and North Africa today is not being on the right side of history. It is just being plain wrong! President John F. Kennedy said that being on the right side of history is being on the side of the “people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery and helping them help themselves.” In his inaugural speech President Kennedy said:

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom– and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

The lesson of the spreading uprisings for African and Middle Eastern thugtators is a simple one best paraphrased in Gandhi’s immortal words: “There have been thugtators and murderers who have foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger. But in the end, they found themselves inside the tiger’s belly. Think of it, always.”

The weekly commentaries of the author are available at:

Speaking Truth On Behalf of Ethiopia’s Youth

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Note: This is my fourth commentary on the theme, “Where do we go from here?” following the rigged elections in Ethiopia last month in which the ruling dictatorship won by 99.6 percent[1]. In this piece, I express deep anguish over the enormous problems and challenges faced by Ethiopia’s youth, and urge them to emancipate their minds and work collectively to build the “future country of Ethiopia” that Birtukan Midekssa, Ethiopia’s foremost political prisoner and first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, dreamed about.

Own the Youth, Gain the Future

In 1935, Adolf Hitler delivered a speech at the Reichsparteitag (national party convention) in which he declared, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” By impregnating German youth with Nazi ideology and unleashing them on the world, Hitler believed he could perpetuate the Third Reich for a thousand years. Creating an indoctrinated and brainwashed youth is the impossible dream of all dictators and tyrannical regimes. The Soviets created the Young Pioneers and Komsomols to integrate youth into the party structure and tighten their control over the population. In China, Mao’s anchored his theory of “permanent revolution” in the mass mobilization of youth; and in the late 1960s he formed the Red Guards to implement his Cultural Revolution.

During the 17 years of military dictatorship in Ethiopia following the overthrow of the imperial regime in 1975, much effort was done to convert the country’s youth to become supporters of the junta and its socialist revolution. That courtship ended in a so-called Red Terror campaign in which tens of thousands of young people were hunted down in the streets and in their homes and arrested or killed by junta cadres. In a monstrous act that will remain in infamy in the history of mankind, junta leader Mengistu Hailemariam forced the parents of Red Terror victims to pay for the bullets used to murder their children.

Today, the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi is busily implementing a master plan to “own” Ethiopia’s youth in a futile attempt to perpetuate itself for a thousand years. Zenawi’s strategy is straightforward. Force the best and the brightest of Ethiopia’s youth to make a Hobson’s choice: Become loyal party members or you will not have access to jobs, education, health care or social welfare programs. It is a simple Faustian bargain. The youth have the option of getting education, jobs, wealth, political power and social privileges in exchange for selling their souls and joining the party. Those who will not take the deal will be left to twist slowly in the wind. The political pressure on Ethiopia’s youth to join the ruling party is so staggering that young people who are not members or supporters of the dictatorship are routinely denied “support letters” from their kebeles (local districts) necessary to get public employment and other social benefits. To squeeze new college graduates into joining the party, the dictatorship has a “new scheme” in place: “Students graduating in the year 2008-2009 from all governmental higher learning institutions have been prohibited from collecting their academic credentials including the student copy until they find jobs which enable them to refund the cost sharing expenses utilized at the universities.”[2] This policy is inapplicable to members and supporters of dictatorship’s party.

Only Slaves Can Be Owned

“Owning” the youth of a nation remains the Holy Grail of every tin pot dictator and tyrant from Albania to Zimbabwe. The concept of “ownership” of youth evokes the imagery of slaves and masters. The slave’s sole purpose in life is to serve the master. Slaves work exclusively for the benefit of their masters, and receive nothing in return. Slaves always work involuntarily and do so because they are fearful of the painful sting of their overseer’s whip. The history of slavery also shows that the master can only own the body of the slave and rarely the slave’s mind. But the master’s ultimate aim is to enslave and cripple the mind of the slave by making the slave feel totally dependent on the master and imposing an overwhelming sense of fear, powerlessness, hopelessness and despair in the slave.

Own-a-Youth or Rent-a-Youth?

In his “victory” speech celebrating his 99.6 percent win in last month’s “election”, Zenawi offered hollow gratitude to Ethiopia’s youth: “We are also proud of the youth of our country who have started to benefit from the ongoing development and also those who are in the process of applying efforts to be productively employed! We offer our thanks and salute the youth of Ethiopia for their unwavering support and enthusiasm!” Given the grim statistics on Ethiopia’s youth and children (below), it is not clear what “ongoing development” Zenawi is talking about.

Nonetheless, Zenawi’s message at the Third Annual Youth Conference in November 2009 provides some insights into his overall strategy to “own” (more appropriately “rent”) Ethiopia’s youth. Before a stage-managed hall full of young people sitting in numbed silence wearing party-issued baseball caps, purportedly representing Ethiopia’s youth, Zenawi laid out his over all youth strategy based on engagement of youth into his party structure. In sketching out his plan for “leadership succession” incorporating youth, Zenawi said that his party for the preceding three to four years had been engaged in preparing youth for political leadership by undertaking “broad recruitment, broad training and broad placement” efforts. His party has placed “no less than 30,000” youths in leadership positions at the local, district and even regional levels. Youth leaders that have shown potential for higher leadership positions will be “tried and tested” and elevated. The “main thing”, Zenawi said is to get youth — large numbers of them — enlisted in the party. In response to carefully crafted questions read out by apparently pre-selected youth, Zenawi assured the overwhelmingly male youth crowd that they have a much better chance of electoral participation than ever before, and have an “irreplaceable role” to play in ensuring “free and fair election” in the May 2010 “election”. He advised repeatedly to closely work with and report issues and problematic persons to the “authorities”.

The manifest aim of this youth strategy is to recruit and unleash hundreds of thousands of well-trained, loyal, bought-off robotic army of youths that will carry out the party’s programs, follow orders and serve as “shock brigades” in the implementation of party policies and Zenawi’s will. In time, the thirty thousand youths would proliferate to hordes of 3 million; and that way, the youth can be owned and the future gained. But the history of the 20th Century shows that many dictatorships have tried and failed in their efforts to recruit and enlist an army of brainwashed youths who could be cloned as successive generations of “True Believers” for the party.

Ethiopia’s Youth at Risk

In discussing Ethiopia’s youth here, I am not employing the standard quantitative age category of 15-24 years. In the context of the African economic realities, a broader swath of the age group under 30 is warranted. Article 36 of the Ethiopian Constitution enumerates a whole set of guarantees to ensure the health, education and welfare of the country’s children and youth. But the statistics on Ethiopia’s children in general is shocking. Though the population under the age of 18 is estimated to be 41 million or just over half of the country’s population, UNICEF estimates that malnutrition is responsible for more than half of all deaths among children under age five[2]. Ethiopia has an estimated 5 million orphans or approximately 15 per cent of all children. Some 800,000 children are estimated to be orphaned as a result of AIDS. These children are highly vulnerable to all forms of exploitation, including child labor and sexual, and receive little educational services, social support or supervision. Urban youth unemployment is estimated at 70 per cent. According to a Population Council report[3] “the vast majority of Ethiopian adolescents, 85 percent, live in rural areas. Levels of education are very low, especially for girls and for rural youth. A substantial proportion of adolescents do not live with their parents, especially in urban areas, where 33 percent of Ethiopian girls aged 10–14 live with neither parent. Some regions have extremely high rates of early marriage. For example, 46 percent of girls in the Amhara region were married by age 15.” There are also about 2.5 million children with disabilities receiving very little government assistance. Frustrated and in despair of their future, many urban youths drop out of school and engage in a fatalistic pattern of risky behaviors including drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, crime and delinquency and sexual activity which exposes them to a risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. There is a serious problem of child trafficking and highly publicized instances of adoption fraud and abuse cases have been documented in the international media in the past year.

Ethiopia’s Youth as Ticking Bomb

The wretched conditions of Ethiopia’s youth point to the fact that they are a ticking demographic time bomb. The evidence of youth frustration, discontent, disillusionment and discouragement by the protracted economic crisis, lack of economic opportunities and political repression is manifest, overwhelming and irrefutable. The yearning of youth for freedom and change is self-evident. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means. On the other hand, many thousands gripped by despair and hopelessness and convinced they have no future in Ethiopia continue to vote with their feet. Today, young Ethiopian refugees can be found in large numbers from South Africa to North America and the Middle East to the Far East.

The dictatorship in Ethiopia hopes to neutralize the youth by “buying” (renting) the “best and the brightest” to serve them. But they also see the writing on the wall clearly. When youth experiencing such high levels of frustration represent such a high percentage of the total population, the implications for a small repressive dictatorship without any broad societal support or acceptance are plain. The critical questions are: Will the frustration, hopelessness and despair push the youth to take a path away from peaceful change? Will the hand-selected and well-trained cadre of rent-a-youth be able to provide a buffer between the masses of locked-out youth and the dictators or demand change? Does the dictatorship really “own” the youth cadres, or merely “renting” them by offering them lavish rewards and incentives? The answers to these questions appear plain to the reasonable mind.

What Can Be Done?

Given the enormity of the problems facing Ethiopia’s children and youth, there are no easy answers or solutions. But the real and lasting solutions to the problems of youth will not come from self-serving cynical dictators, party hacks, academics or self-indulgent intellectuals. The search for solutions must begin with the youth themselves.

Ethiopia’s Youth Must Be Seen, Heard and Engaged

As I have observed and studied Ethiopian politics, it seems that the old adage holds true: “Children should be seen and not heard.” Though young people represent a significant segment of the Ethiopian population, they are marginalized and largely ignored in the governance process. A study of Zenawi’s speech and exchange with the youth “leaders” at the Third Annual Youth Conference provides an object lesson in how political leaders of all stripes have dealt with the youth in a condescending and patronizing manner. At that conference, Zenawi did not solicit the views of the youth “leaders”, he lectured them like school children. He did not allow them to interact with him freely, rather designated individuals asked specific written questions in apparent trepidation. It was obvious that they were not even allowed to improvise in asking questions or follow up with additional questions. The stage management of the questioners was so mechanical and robotic that the observer could easily tell that the youth asking the questions did not formulate the questions themselves. The very nature of the questions points to the fact that they were planted. One would reasonably expect a youth conference representing the interests of all of Ethiopia’s youth to focus largely on matters that have direct relevance to youth. It seems odd that such a conference should devote so much attention and time to questions of leadership succession, party organization of youth and placement of youth in local, state and national offices. The point is that all young Ethiopians, regardless of their party affiliation or ideology, should be encouraged to be actively engaged in the political process, become civically engaged, take volunteer and formal leadership roles in their communities and become active participants in the governance process.

We Must Listen to the Youth

It is necessary to listen to and understand the views and perspectives of Ethiopia’s youth on the issues and problems vital to them. They should not be marginalized in the discussions and debates. The older generation is always quick to tell the youth what to do and not do. We lecture them when we are not ignoring them. But rarely do we show them the respect they deserve. We tend to underestimate the intelligence of youth and overestimate our abilities and craftiness to manipulate and use them for our own cynical ends or in our political struggles with our adversaries. How many of us in the older generation have made the effort to interact with young people regularly and tried to understand their pain, despair, hopelessness? How many of us have taken the time to talk to small groups of them to find out the issues that are most important to them and what they desire in the future? How many of us in the older generation truly believe that the youth own the future and we do not own them?

Let’s Help Develop Youth Leadership and Inspire Them

One of the major problems of Ethiopia’s youth is that the older generation refuses to get out of the way. At the Third Youth Conference, Zenawi used an interesting analogy involving a “traffic jam” to describe his sense of the intergenerational leadership succession. He said it was necessary to create an orderly succession in the transfer of power from one generation to another in the same way as traffic on the highway should flow “smoothly” and in an “orderly process.” It is ironic that he does not see himself as the principal cause of the 20-year total traffic jam on the Ethiopian political freeway, but his analogy is instructive. Speaking particularly to the older generation opposition, we need to realize that we are cluttering and congesting the political highway with our old clunkers and jalopies. We need to graciously accept the fact that we need to get off the highway so that the youth driving their turbocharged cars can zoom to their destinations. The point is that the older generation can be most helpful by providing guidance and advice to the youth instead of getting on the highway and blocking the flow of traffic. Leadership is not limited to the political realm. Youth can be engaged in activism on community, environmental and human rights issues; they can participate in volunteer community service and take leadership roles in civic and cultural institutions. We can help enlighten, inspire and empower the youth. The basic challenge is not only to engage the youth in governance but also in preparing them to take diverse leadership in the future. Those in the opposition should seriously consider drafting a formal youth agenda with the significant input of youth addressing the wide range of problems and issues.

Link Diaspora Youth with Youth in Ethiopia

There is a big disconnect and a huge gulf that exists between young Ethiopians in the Diaspora and those in Ethiopia. That is partly a function of geography, but also class. It needs to be bridged. Youth in the Diaspora are in the best position to create linkages with their counterparts in Ethiopia using cyber-technology. Many young Ethiopians born in the West are often heard complaining and expressing concern over the enormous problems faced by young people in Ethiopia. Diaspora youth endowed with higher education and resources can use their creativity to create networks and linkages to help their counterparts in Ethiopia.

My Humble Message to Ethiopia’s Youth

I have no magic formula for any of the problems faced by Ethiopia’s youth. My humble message to all young Ethiopians is simple. Never give up. Never! Emancipate your minds from mental slavery. Develop your creative powers. Learn and teach each other. Unite as the children of Mother Ethiopia, and reject any ideology or effort that seeks to divide you on the basis of ethnicity, language, region or class. Study and acquire knowledge not only about the arts and sciences but also your legal, constitutional and human rights. It is easier for tyrants and dictators to rob you of your rights when you are ignorant and fearful. It has been said that “ignorance has always been the most powerful weapon of tyrants; enlightenment the salvation of the free.” Jamming the airwaves to keep information from reaching the youth and the larger population and maintaining a pall of darkness over society is the weapon of tyrants. Blocking access to the internet, banning the free press and exiling independent journalists are all weapons in the arsenal of tyrants who fear the truth and despair over their rendezvous with the dustbin of history.

President Obama was absolutely right when he said, “We’ve learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realized.” The destiny of “the future country of Ethiopia” is in not in the clenched fists of dictators but in the palms of the likes of Birtukan Midekssa and all the youth like her yearning to breath free. Ethiopia’s youth owes a lot to Birtukan. She is in prison for life not only because she stood up for her rights; but most importantly because she wants her generation of young people and posterity to live free in the “future country of Ethiopia” that she often dreamed about. If the dictators do not own the youth, they can not own the future!

Alemayehu G. Mariam is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on,, and other sites.