Thursday, February 9, 2023
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A call to Ethiopians at home and abroad

The founding members of the main Ethiopian Peace and Development Center (PDC) and the US-based Peace and Development Center International (PDCI) have been ardently committed to peace and the silencing of the guns that annihilate the poor, innocent peoples of Africa.

PDCI members were appealing to all Ethiopian political parties to sit down for a peace dialogue months before the conflicts broke out and almost a million lives were lost. We, therefore, heartily welcome the recent announcement of a peace agreement signed in South Africa and the cessation of hostilities between the governing Prosperity Party (PP) and the government of Tigray.

The agreement between the two conflicting parties offers Ethiopians a glimpse of hope in an otherwise utter darkness of war, conflict, and suffering.

Ethiopia is a country celebrated as a land of justice, tolerance, and hospitality. Five hundred years ago, a Renaissance scholar and disciple of Erasmus described it as an exemplary land of religious coexistence where Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived in peace together.

The ancient saints of Ethiopia taught the fear of God, love, and forgiveness. The 17th-century philosopher Zara Ya’eqob, predating John Lock, advocated a philosophy of mutual respect among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Even before the European Enlightenment, he proposed the rational thought of equal rights and coexistence. Krestos Samra, a fifteenth-century saint, advocated for reconciliation even between God and Satan.

Yet, during these past two years, we, the educated elites of this generation, at home and in the Diaspora, were tested as a society and failed miserably. Using the media and the internet, we spewed and applied hatred against each other, resulting in the greatest and unprecedented carnage in the country’s history.

Nothing in Ethiopia will ever be the same following the horrendous deaths, displacements, and destruction of over a million people. It is not only the worst war in Ethiopian history but one of the worst in the world.

Worse, God and the Holy Scriptures were used and abused to support hate and genocide by some educated politicians. They disregarded the commandment to love our enemies and live in peace, as well as everything the holy books we read had taught us.

The international community, including the US government, shares equal blame for this modern African tragedy. They rightly focused on the Ukrainian war but minimized the bloodier African war.

They also provided destructive weapons to the conflicting parties. And when they tried to promote peace, they were often misguided, thinking that only they knew better, and their political interests got in the way.

The problem of Ethiopia can ultimately be solved only by its own people. Yet, instead of respecting the voices of Ethiopian peacemakers, the foreign powers preferred to use cross-oceanic shuttles to dictate their usual misguided “we know it better” philosophy.

Our Starbucks generation of educated Ethiopians who live comfortably both at home and abroad forgot that most of our poor people hardly get a cup of coffee to drink.

In Ethiopia, about 300,000 women now die during childbirth. An estimated five million people need medical attention because they are exposed to a high degree of acute diarrhea, sickness, and death.

About 15 million Ethiopian children under five are hungry! According to UNESCO, 50 percent of Ethiopians are undernourished. Some seven million people are critically affected by malnutrition, and another 10 million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

So, instead of focusing on our real enemies, the triple threats to our society: poverty, disease, and illiteracy, we, the educated elite, let our egos overtake us.

Our leaders now spend millions to buy weapons of destruction, waging war against each other and killing hundreds of thousands of men, women, and young people. We are destroying our beautiful country. We are being accused internationally of committing genocide in our own country.

The good people of Ethiopia became a silent majority, silenced by hate. We watched with utter helplessness as unimaginable cruelty was unleashed on the people who formerly lived together for centuries in an exemplary melting pot of cultures and languages.

We watched as hate, disinformation, and misinformation were spewed on the airwaves and hateful actions were taken. We became oblivious and numb to our daily sufferings. We chose hate over love and experienced its full wrath.

We marginalized our own peacemakers and advocates for peace and reconciliation, blinded by selfish desires to win and believing that war could solve political disputes. We did not see the errors of our ways—that war could never be a solution, particularly among brothers and sisters.

Sadly, we, the educated, who should know better, are sold on the bloody war. We carry a share of the blame for the tragic disaster in our homeland.

Some of us peace advocates did call for dialogue very early, even before the conflict broke out. We first proposed to start a dialogue between the Ethiopian government and the people of Tigray on July 11, 2020. Unfortunately, our call then fell on deaf ears.

A group of distinguished Ethiopians who were members of the PDCI subsequently wrote appeal letters for dialogue in August 2020 and again in September 2020, months before the conflict erupted.

The wise elders humbly pointed out that conflicts based on political, cultural, religious, or other factors among people and organizations should be resolved without resorting to war, violence, or armed conflict. Again, they got no response.

Instead, the powers encouraged a group of self-appointed “elders” to derail the peace process.

As the conflicts escalated, the PDCI continued writing urgent letters, calling upon the authorities to avert the looming humanitarian crisis. The PDCI decried the waste of national resources on hatred and deaths rather than fighting poverty, disease, and illiteracy.

We did not stop urging all sides to come to the table for an all-inclusive and comprehensive national dialogue sooner rather than later, before any shootings started.

We consequently conducted a conciliatory media dialogue with the then CEO of the New York Times, Mark Thompson, the then Rwandan Minister of Justice, Johnston Busingye, and even representatives of the Ethiopian Government’s Ministry of Information, among others.

Subsequently, we invited several former distinguished international ambassadors of France, Great Britain, India, the USA, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Germany, and Italy who loved and respected Ethiopia.

They participated in a series of meetings to help promote peaceful dialogue among Ethiopian political parties. Unfortunately, this important effort of theirs and ours was misinterpreted and abused by those who hated peace.

So, our multifaceted cries fell on deaf ears, and no one heeded our call or warnings. Instead, we became a voice that cries in the wilderness. After the deadly conflict progressed, one high-level Ethiopian official even told one of our peacemakers that “promoting peace is committing sin”!

The results of deaf ears and blind eyes left close to a million people dead, millions displaced, hundreds of thousands raped, essential infrastructure illimitably destroyed, the economy strained, the social fabric torn apart, and ultimately the country setback for decades in underdevelopment.

The current irony is that only a few years ago, Ethiopia’s true economy was said to be among the fastest growing in the world, with a rapidly improving standard of living. So, there is absolutely no question that if we play a role in stopping the conflicts, there is still great potential that we can rescue Ethiopia from the recent disaster.

Ethiopia is a country that has been known as a religious country for over 3000 years, with a Judaism that goes back to the time of King Solomon, a Christianity that goes back to the Eunuch of the Book of Acts, and an Islam that goes back to the time of the Prophet.

Even after the recent agreements, only through genuine repentance and commitment to truth and reconciliation in thoughts, words, and deeds will we have a chance to have real peace. We must listen to and learn from our own village’s people, whom we must respect.

The road to ultimate peace and truth lies within us. We must turn away from Machiavelli and Mao and listen to the wisdom of our ancient teachers and feel the pain of our 99 percent poor people. The power that comes from the barrel of the gun will only consume us.

The educated elites and political leaders of Ethiopia should get down on their knees and ask for forgiveness and repent. The wrongs cannot be forgiven if they are not brought to one’s awareness. One cannot become enlightened if one cannot see the light.

We need to realize that our actions have caused pain in others and withdraw from such actions.

The journey to turn hatred, fear, and anger into love, peace, harmony, and goodwill will not be easy. But we must try very hard for the survival of the country we love and the future generation. If we understand and learn from the past and know the dangers of hatred, we can turn to the blessings of peace and love. Peace and love start with repentance and forgiveness.

The path of truth is not one of distortions or conspiracies, but one that will lead to unconditional forgiveness and restoration.

We need to examine who we are and what we have become over the past two years. We must admit our grave failure in rejecting a foresighted call and appeal from national elders two years ago to heed and stop the brewing hostility.

The PDCI remains committed to peace and reconciliation. We will continue to work with and collaborate with all peace-loving entities that promote not only peace but also love and respect among all of our dear people in our beloved country. We look forward to the day when all Ethiopians will unite and fight against their true enemies: poverty, disease, and illiteracy.

We must make a solemn commitment to reject hate and turn to the jurisdiction of love, mutual respect, peace, and development. The choice of life or death in Ethiopia is in the hands of our own people and its educated leaders.

(Ephraim Isaac (PhD) is Chair of the Ethiopian Peace and Development Center International and a First Professor at Harvard’s Department of African and African American Studies.)

Contributed by Ephraim Isaac (PhD)

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