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Article written

  • on 30.07.2012
  • at 02:18 PM
  • by Randa Ghazy

Humanity, its beauty and absurdity: the Ethiopian case 0

One of the defining characters of human beings is our awareness of our own existence either as an independent individual or as members of groups that we create based on bloodlines or cultural, economical, political, religious, and sexual associations.


Indeed no (wo)man is an island. Whether he or she likes it or not, the individual is forced or chooses to be associated with a nation, a community, a group, an identity, a species, or the universe as a whole. I, for example, am a being, a human being, born from Ethiopian parents whose ethnic identity is Tigrayan, whose country is part of Africa; my skin color is black, thus am called a black man; I am a blogger, therefore, I have developed a sense of connection with other bloggers, especially with those I met on wordpress.com.

We often form bonds easily with those we associate ourselves with. Why? It’s safer. It feels like home. You consider yourself a family. And family is the smallest unit of anything bigger: an ethnicity, a race, a province, a nation, a continent, a religion, a philosophy, a planet, etc.

When I, for example, miss Ethiopia, I call home to know first how my parents and siblings are doing (my blood relatives); then I ask about my extended family; then my neighbors, and about my friends; then about the town’s people in general; finally I try to keep up with every news on the country. What I do is more or less similar to what every human being does. Through our associations with these various options we have, we develop a sense of belonging.

When negative things happen in the name of the association we embrace, we may try to disassociate. Or even if we have nothing to do with the negative thing, due to our association, those who are victims may blame us and expect us to confess a sin we haven’t committed. As a result, we may either resent the blamers and become aggressive to defend ourselves, and those we are associated with; or, we may feel guilty and try to hide or negate our association.

As I stated above, here is one my associations: I identify myself as an Ethiopian born from Tigrayan parents. Neither my parents nor I chose to have that identity. My parents inherited the identity from their parents, and those around them also identified them with it. As a child, I remember, kids from different ethnicity used to call me: Tigray Lirgetih BandEgre, meaning: hey, Tigray dude, let me kick your ass! As children, of course, they said it without fully understanding its implication or future effect on me; however, they were fully aware, or were told by their parents, that I was different from them, that I was a Tigrayan; otherwise, why would they bully me?

I have forgiven, but will never forget, for instance, this kid who persistently bullied me to the point my parents had to get involved and fight with his parents. By the way, this has little to do with the fact the then fledgling current government was officially starting to promote ethnic federalism; I mention this because some have the tendency to attribute any problem related to ethnicity to the regime.

Tigrayans or others have always been identified by their ethnic identities. And ethnic stereotypes have existed throughout the country’s history.

After the bullying incident that forced my parents to get involved, political tensions brewed at the national and regional levels, especially after the rebel groups that participated in removing the former dictator couldn’t agree with each other on power sharing. The governing party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was founded by Tigrayan rebels, organised under Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), that ousted the Mengistu junta in coalition with other rebel movements such as Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), and Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM). Following that tension came a skirmish.

The most visible rebel group from my region, OLF, accused the TPLF-led EPRDF party of unfairness and went back to armed struggle. It was then when it became obvious that the bullying I faced in elementary school was a foreshadow to what awaited me, my family and a few other Tigrayans in the town, where we found ourselves as easy targets for grievance. We were treated as scapegoats because of our ethnic association with those in power. None of us, however, had any influence in national, regional or local politics whatsoever.

My parents, for example, are poor peasants who only minded their business just like every other peasant. Nor were they given any special treatment by the state. In fact, we were one of the first internally displaced communities whose stories never got reported. We were considered ‘outsiders’ in our own country and were driven out of our homes, forced to relocate and live in another town, renting a basement first and moving into a shack next since that was what we could afford. It was better than sleeping in the street, though we were technically homeless.

Now, as a grownup twenty-something guy, the childhood bullying by association has yet to leave me alone. Some unashamedly want me to feel guilty or sorry for party wrongdoings that have also made my family and other families victims. Not to mention I was once denied an internship opportunity at a supposedly ‘independent’ US-based international organisation. One of the associates informed me through email that I could potentially be ‘a regime infiltrator’, after I told them about my ethnic background and what I think of the politics in Ethiopia during an interview.

I will wait for the right time to expose their blatant bias and unprofessionalism. By US law, it is illegal to discriminate based on race or ethnicity. It is not fair too to accuse someone without evidence, an action that contradicts their protest against the Ethiopian regime for doing exactly the same. I could have reported it, but I saw no point. Regardless, it was a great lesson for me that showed me how the so-called independent organisations function and how the ‘experts’ can be easily influenced or can bank on selling prejudice to make a living. For those who may doubt this, I have their email saved. I am still astonished they openly expressed their bias.

That ethnocentric paranoia is also one of the reasons why many Tigrayans reserve themselves from giving their support to the oppositions because they know that no matter how genuinely they want to support, they will always be doubted by those who self-appoint themselves as the ‘real Ethiopians’, ‘real oppositions’, the only ones entitled to rule or speak about Ethiopia.

First of all, regarding the Ethiopian identity, everyone who carries an Ethiopian passport is Ethiopian, whether one despises that or not. There is no such thing called real, unreal, unless one wants to inflate one’s self-importance. It is a delusion to think that one is less trustworthy than the other because either one comes from a certain ethnicity or one refuses to write or say only negative things about the regime and by extension about Ethiopia twenty four seven. For me, this kind of attitude is an insult, very patronising and counterproductive.

The trust issue also explains why the opposition groups remain ineffective, giving the ruling party an easy ride on the political highway. Let alone trust Tigrayans who by default are considered TPLF loyalists, though there are more than enough people from the community that no longer support it; the opposition, composed of ethno-nationalists and mostly ultranationalist groups, can’t even trust each other.

Mainly because of my ethnic background, some have made it a habit to stalk me online and call me a regime sympathiser to silence me from expressing my view, criticising the opposition parties as objectively as I criticise the ruling party. Thankfully, their extremism hasn’t made me a full time ruling party sympathiser, or its member, or a blind opposer to appease or be accepted by those who profess to liberate Ethiopia from the party’s rule without acting any different from it.

The funny part of my ethnic association is that I haven’t even seen Tigrai yet, the region that gave my parents their Tigrayan identity. Next time I go back to Ethiopia, visiting Tigrai will be my first assignment. After all, I deserve it. I have paid a price for it.

Lastly, I am always going to be an Ethiopian whose parents were born in Tigrai, which has made me a Tigrayan Ethiopian, given what I have been through, though I was born in Oromia, and my mother tongue is Amharic. And I am okay with that. I will embrace it. But I will oppose ethnocentrism and ultranationalism. And, of course, outside the Ethiopian world, I am just another African, black guy; none of the complicated stuff that continues to rock Ethiopians really matters to the foreigners I randomly encounter.

And when you think of all of that from a microscopic or macroscopic level, it is quite irrelevant. At the microscopic level, I am composed of atoms, and soon or later, I will die and decompose; at the macroscopic level, I am part of the Milky Way, which itself is part of the universe, whose vastness or mysterious existence makes earthly dramas insignificant. Sounds a cliché, right? But it is a fact.

Beauty and absurdity. That is humanity.

By Elyas Mulu KirosPambazuka News

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