I am becoming sleepless because I hear the cacophony of inter-group hate among many of my beloved brothers and sisters these days. I, too, hate something! But it is the suffering of our people that I hate. I hate to see millions of Ethiopian babies dying from lack of milk, millions of sick Ethiopians dying from lack of medicine and hospitals, and millions of hungry Ethiopians dying from lack of food because of hunger in our country. When it comes to hunger, disease, and ignorance, there is no difference in race, tribe, or language. So instead of wasting my energy hating people, I’ll spend it worrying about how we can feed the hungry, give milk to our babies, heal the sick, educate our youth, and build shelters for the homeless.
My dear brothers and sisters: Do I love Ethiopia and all Ethiopian people, no matter what language they speak? Yes, and I hold our educated elites and leaders responsible for all our conflicts. So, now I appeal to all Ethiopians, at home and abroad, to turn away from hate, anger, and fighting and embrace each other.
Let us all open our eyes, look at each other, and ask ourselves, “Why is Ethiopia a strong ancient land?” In his book on the second Italo-Ethiopian war, Del Boca observes that the Italians won the war in 1935 by spying on the Ethiopians and making sure that the proud generals of the Amhara, Tigre, and Oromo did not cooperate and consolidate their forces. On the other hand, we all know that Ethiopia won the glorious Battle of Adwa through a strong union of Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Afar, Gurage, Wolayta, Hadia, Kambata, and all other Ethiopian national forces. And as we all know, the ancient Kingdom of Israel was also divided and weakened because of brotherly infighting. The empires of Rome, Persia, and other mighty ancient empires ultimately fell apart because of internecine warfare.
These past two years have indeed been hell for all Ethiopians. The stories we hear today about the mass killings of our Tigrian, Oromo, and Amhara peoples and the inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable—our children and senior citizens—freeze the blood. The ugly rape of our Tigrayan and other women, the bombing in Wollega, and the blatant neglect of the humanitarian needs of our poorest people pain me deeply.
When we see what is happening in our beloved Ethiopia, who is not heartbroken? I myself can neither sleep well nor feel at ease. My only comfort is that I have many wonderful Ethiopian friends who are loving that work with me for peace at home and abroad. Together, we humbly appeal to our leaders to turn away from anger, hate, and violence toward peace, love, and mutual respect during this Easter, Ramadan, and Pesah season. Our people desperately need food, medicine, and education for their children. What are we doing to meet these fundamental human needs for them when we foment ethnic hatred on social media and drag our people down to their deaths and destruction?
Anger and hate not only tear us apart; they also can destroy the very fabric of our diverse and great nation of Ethiopia. Anger and hate kill the very person who harbors them, and they are now killing us and our Ethiopia. But love conquers everything. When you love others, you are at peace, sail through life, and live much longer. I can tell you many things that you can gain when you love. But please tell me what you gain when you hate.
What do we gain by hating each other?
Some years ago, I was a member of a doctoral dissertation committee for a Sri Lankan university student of psychology on the tragic Sri Lankan Civil War of 1987–2009. According to one estimate, 100,000 civilians died during the conflict, not including military deaths. I learned from reading the thesis that the root of that conflict was bitter inter-ethnic hate among the Tamils, Sinhalese, and Moors.
Unfortunately, what was originally and rightly meant to promote ethnic pride was turned into a philosophy of ethnic superiority and hatred by some politicians. The discrimination that occurred in state sector employment practices and the demand for separate states over time turned into a potent and bitter hatred and generated fear that escalated into inter-ethnic hate, death, and destruction.
Let this be a warning. Through hate, we will soon destroy our beloved country. That is exactly what some of our foreign enemies want. I therefore ask, are you lining up with those who want to destroy Ethiopia and Eritrea or with those who build them up and make them strong?
I hate to say it, but of course I know we have political problems. Those who do not want to see us coexist in peace as one powerful nation have sown the seeds of inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict in our country. I do agree that we need to fix the problems of our inter-ethnic and inter-political differences. But under no condition can those problems be resolved by hating each other. No benefit or gain will come to us through hate.
On the contrary, hate can only exacerbate our demise, sooner or later. We can be assured that our people will only remain and die sick, poor, hungry, and illiterate.
I agree with those who say we need democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and economic development. But let us not hide behind such lofty ideas only to attack each other. There is a Jewish saying: “The world stands on three pillars: peace, love, and justice, but peace is the strongest pillar.” Without peace, our country will crumble. Yet, bringing peace is not going to be easy. It is we who can do so by respectfully and sympathetically holding dialogs with each other.
No amount of international diplomacy, although important and welcome, can save us or resolve our conflicts. As an ancient rabbi said, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” As the saying goes, “The foolish fight. The wise are right: they talk.” Our good people are used to sitting in the church or mosque or under the sycamore trees to talk to each other. Why can we not respect that ancient tradition and do the same and dialogue with each other? That is the path to true democracy.
No country I know has solved its problem through hate. Countries like Great Britain solved their British, Scottish, and Irish problems by forming the “United” Kingdom. Countries like Switzerland solved their problem by forming cantons,” in which the French, German, and Italian speakers equitably share political, economic, and social powers. Countries like Israel, despite Jews coming from diverse backgrounds, live together under an ancient “covenant”. Certainly, people in many strong countries argue with each other and compete, but they do not do so through hate or waste their time on anger and hate.
Ultimately, personal decisions to love each other, to respect each other, and to want to live in peace together are the solution, not a constitution on paper! If we love and respect each other, we can fix the problems of our constitution peacefully and through intelligent dialogue.
Ethiopia has been known since ancient times as a land of peace and tolerance. The Greeks, the Hebrews, the Persians, the Prophet Muhammad, famous Renaissance scholars (and maybe even Luther, the founder of Protestantism) all hailed Ethiopia as the home of a tolerant and peaceful people.
Our ancient spiritual teachers like Krestos Samra, “mother of peace,” and Zara Ya’eqob taught inter-religious and inter-ethnic tolerance and mutual respect. The Oromo do not tolerate injustice or hate; murder is not common, but even the families of those few murderers are brought together in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation; our own Gada order is a democratic system.
Ethiopia is indeed a country of beautiful people, both physically and spiritually. Every Ethiopian in the countryside and villages I came across on all my travels and met was the same: gentle, loving, and humble. Unlike many of us modern educated elites, the west, the north, the south, and the east were not infected by hateful politics. I do not remember meeting any arrogant, hateful, and disrespectful village person. On the contrary, all imbue kindness, patience, and love.
Wherever I went, I do not recall anyone asking me whether I was an Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Gurage, Somali, Wolayta, or what linguo-ethnic group I belong to. They first asked whether I was thirsty, hungry, or tired. The people I encountered were poor but far richer in soul and spirit than some of us today who harbor anger and are hateful at heart. I love Ethiopia, which is why, after years living abroad, I still proudly carry an Ethiopian passport.
So, today, when I hear abusive or strong words of hate from some of my compatriots, maligning one or another of our beautiful people, be it the Tigre, the Oromo, the Amhara, or any of our many other linguistic communities, it worries me and pains me. When we hate our fellow Ethiopians, we empower external forces that wish to do us harm.
Some years ago, I was honored to give a lecture at the famous Mayo Clinic retreat as a keynote speaker on the value of cultural diversity in the health services. Many of the doctors I met agreed with me that hatred is a psychological disease that is as bad as cancer. It is a miserable illness that needs to be treated. In short, we do more harm to ourselves than to others through hate and anger.
On the contrary, love and respect for others calm the brain and nervous system. Some psychologists I know say that the positive reinforcement of others, rather than their punishment, gives people more positive life options. To work for the good of others and reach across lines and look to the future rather than attack people indeed brings joy, happiness, and rich personal fulfillment.
All the religions in our country teach love and compassion. The great prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam taught love and compassion. They said to love not only your neighbor but even the stranger. Ethiopia is such a well-known religious country that hating people and considering them enemies should be abhorrent to any decent Ethiopian.
Nobody denies that there are political differences among us. We have serious problems that we must deal with. Those of us who are now ardently working for peace plan to work with the government and all political opposition parties to find a resolution to all problems and conflicts. I think we should focus on “hate.” We need a strong and genuine democracy in our country. But the road to genuine democracy and political agreements is not paved with hate and anger but with calm dialogue and respectful discourse. Then, we can form “a covenant” of timeless coexistence.
Brothers and sisters, please forgive me if I sound too accusatory. We must free ourselves from the fault line of linguistic group antagonism and instead form an active coalition of women and men of different communities to bring genuine democracy. Moreover, we can all build together our beloved homeland and fight together against our true enemies—poverty, disease, and illiteracy.
Let us stop thinking that we have a monopoly on the truth, that “I alone am right.” One of the interesting people I met when I first came to Princeton in 1980 was the great Albert Einstein’s personal secretary. She impressed upon me how self-effacing and humble Einstein was. That reminded me that the most unpretentious and unassuming professors I had at Harvard were the most famous ones, not the junior faculty! Even in our country, the wisest are the humblest.
Let us become exemplary people for all of Africa, people who love and respect each other. The sooner we start holding dialogues, the sooner we can work together to feed our poor, heal our sick, and start seriously educating our children, which is better for us and for Ethiopia.
Ephraim Isaac (PhD) is a scholar of ancient Ethiopian Semitic languages and of African and Ethiopian civilizations. He is the director of the Institute of Semitic Studies at Princeton University.
Contributed by Ephraim Isaac