It has been said that, there is nothing more powerful than misery that remind one exactly who they are. It is at the time of heightened misery like the loss of a loved one, that one come to realize what is more important.
2016 goes as one of the most bloody and cruelty filled years in the modern Ethiopians history specially for Oromo’s and Amhara’s. This is not to say these two ethnic groups are the only targeted but given the two major protests the pain is more dire in these two parts of the country.
In 2016, we witnessed students being hunted and killed. Student protestors arrested in their schools and tortured in front of cameras and beaten in their dorm rooms. Farmers who vouched to stay peaceful in the name of peaceful struggle violated in front of their families. Opposition politicians who publicly denounced a violence harassed by government forces and thrown in jail to the tune of thousands.
Yet the silence was deafaning. The more body kept on piling, the more we started asking who we really are? we started asking why our country men and women prefer to talk about premier league football and “sew le sew” while their fellow brothers and sisters being slaughter by the government. We started wondering if we all live in the same world and see the same thing happening? We started questioning the true nature of our relationship and the value of us in them and vice versa.
Jan 25 2016, Abebe Lata, 8th grade student killed by the government forces of Ethiopia, Shanan Town, West Shawa. His murder marked the 32nd registered in that same month. We mourned his death and wondered what kind of danger he posed as an 8th grader to be killed. We wondered how come killing a kid in day light be justified.
Feb 22nd, 2016, Arganne, a young bright young girl form Begi Town, west Wollega was gunned down marking the 74th murder by the government forces for the month of February.
The killing of innocent people continued and by the time we reach June the number passed 300 known murders and thousand of arrests and multiple harassment of communities in Oromia region reported. The bullets of Agazi special forces that replaced Oromia police forces indiscriminately landed on who ever they felt like killing. Young girls like Sabrina Abdella, a tenth grader from Chelenqo East Hararghe was killed June 20, 2016. Sabrina was a bread winner for her family. She used to support her family by selling coffee and tea on the streets and with her passing, so does the only means of income for her poor family.
Once we get to the summer of 2016, the number of killed, arrested, tortured and harassed kept skyrocketing. Seeing mutilated body of young students and farmers on social media end up being a daily routine. The more blood spilled, the more we question ourselves who we are and what our values are.
There were a time where people used to steal and be embarrassed when they got caught now they brag about it as if they landed on a moon. There were time where killing children and pregnant women will shock a nation now people sing and dance about it as if they killed their arch enemy in battlefield.
Six month into the 2016, cities like Ambo, kept their kids at home since the schools are closed by the government and Human rights watch released a scathing report about the human rights violation in Ethiopia.
Let me pause here for a minute and remind you the way things were at this time. This incidents really made some of us extremely sad and upset. We started seeing life under the lens of the brutality people back in Ethiopia lived it. But, I will be lying to you if everyone from Ethiopia felt the same way. What was shocking to me and many others, was the utter dismissal of what was happening in Ethiopia and for some even talking and posting about it caused them a discomfort to a point of unfriending us on social media or giving us a look when we run in social gatherings. Once a person said to me “Ethiopia is marching to progress and you guys are trying to keep us from progress by talking bad about our country”
I wondered continuously what kind of person think a country progresses by killing its children and imprisoning its teachers and journalists but I digress.
Half way through the messy year that was 2016, unlike political elites that always see life with a lens of ethnicity, unlike a government that thinks its citizens as “strange bed fellows” because of their ethnicity. Young mens and women, students, farmers and even priest and sheiks come out in Gondar and put the government in shame by chanting “The blood of our Oromo brothers is our blood too” these brave Amhara brothers and sisters knew exactly what that means and the harsh punishment that come with it, but for them, the pain they are about to endure did not stop them from speaking about the injustice they witnessed in south part of their country.
Their legitimate question of the Wolkaite area, which they pursued in a legal peaceful manner, turned down by the government and then they started harassing their leaders. A parent that always justifies its rule by its belt will not be expected to change its mannerism. Then the killing started in Amhara region too. The bloody year of 2016, continue to inflict pain now in larger areas of the country. A young men got shot in bright day light for wearing white cloth in the fourth anniversary of the passing of Woyane leader Meles Zenawi. His brother later told VOA radio that he was heading to shoot a video of a wedding. We witnessed government forces using apache helicopters burning villages and killing innocent people. Quickly the death toll getting higher and higher and passed hundred.
2016 got even more crazy when we heard a news of Qilinto fire. Qilinto is a notorious prison in Ethiopia, where most of the political prisoners including Bekele Gerba and journalist Eskinder Nega imprisoned. Qilinto Massacre happened after a fire started in the prison and security forces shot and killed more than 28 prisoners. Now the government is accusing the prisoners for setting the fire even if the autopsy of the prisoners show they are killed from bullet wounds not burns.
And the grand finale of the bloody year took us through the pain of Irreecha massacre. A massacre happened at Bishoftu’s Hora Arsadi, the crater lake near the site. More than a million attended this cultural thanksgiving celebration and it was considered one of the important holiday in Oromo culture. What happened next was old news but the number of victims was more than 600 and the government denies what happened by calling it stampede but for those of us that watch the video, it is pretty clear bullets are shots at the crowd while hanvees with masked killers on top roam the streets filled with worshippers and army helicopters flew over. One of the victim of the Irreecha massacre was Sifan Legesse of Ginchi. Her brother was killed two month prior due to Oromo Protests and this young girl who’s just graduated from college and married came to give her thanks even if there was little to give thanks about the year 2016. She left Bishoftuu in a body bag and buried in Ginchi with her brother.
Ronald Reagan once said “If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen” I am not republican but I appreciate a leader that requests his countrymen to love each other. I like this quote because it is exactly what I believe is the problem in Ethiopia.
I always hear a great deal from a friends of mine about being “Ethiopian”. What it means to be an Ethiopian. It always felt to me that there is a litmus test to be an Ethiopian. A test that you have to avoid your identity and your culture to completely surrender to a new identity that is strange to you to say I am Ethiopian. But in reality that is far from what it means to be Ethiopian. I also believe the reason why people kept silent while Oromo protest victims die in daily basis is because they identified them as the others or those who failed the litmus test in psyche of mainstream “Ethiopians”. Same happened when the government killed Anuak’s and take their land forcefully.
To be a real Ethiopian is to be like the people of Gondar the day they rise with Bekele Gerba’s photo and proclaimed the “blood of oromo is ours too”. That my friends is what meant to be Ethiopian.
To be a real Ethiopian is to stand up like Lelisa Feyissa in the world stage and protest the Government yet not fell in trap of hating others because they are different from him.
To be real Ethiopian is to be like Bekele Gerba that advised me once to value people based on their character but not by their ethnicity.
To be quite while masses bleed, to ignore the weeping of mothers, to dance while many cry, to enrich oneself by amassing wealth that was stolen from others, to accuse an entire Oromo people as agents of Egyptian government is not being Ethiopian. It is being Anti-Ethiopian. One can not love Ethiopia and hate the people of Ethiopia.
Let’s not get it twisted. An Oromo farmer shall celebrate his culture, language and religion and still be an Ethiopian. A Konso women lives her tradition and still be Ethiopian. An Amhara family be proud of their identity and culture and still be Ethiopians. They can also call themselves Oromo, Amhara and Konso if they need be and that doesn’t change their claim of being “Ethiopian”. There is no litmus test to be an Ethiopian. If you born in Ethiopia, you are Ethiopian.
2016 taught us the future of Ethiopia is in our hands, in each and every one of us. And rest assured the battle for the future of our country is a victory-less one. There will be no winner but there sure will be losers in the battle in front of us. This zero-sum game will leave us with chaos and more blood if we don’t correct our act pretty soon. We all know now without a basic foundation for human right and democratic institutions founded on law and equality, the house card we built will crumble easily. No amount of investor money or power company will hold the country together without the sense of ownership from its citizens.
So 2016, the bloody year taught us a special lesson about who we are and where our values lie. After 2016, we will not be debating if the Ethiopian government is democratic or not. We will not be debating if the master plan is fair or not fair. We will not be debating if leaders like Dr. Merera Gudina violated a law by sitting beside Dr. Berhanu Nega. We will not accepting draconian laws like the state of emergency as a real means of political solution. We will not be bent out of shape to make you like us. We will not expect common sense and changes from our so called leaders. We will not be fooled by a wolf in a sheep cloth. Because this bloody year thought us who we really are and what we are standing for!
Finally I will leave you with the story of Mr. Jemal Hussien. Mr Jemal and his wife lost all three of their children in one day. Merebu, Tola and Addisu Jemal are killed November 2nd at Shirka, North Arsi by Ethiopian government forces. By the time journalists get to their house to ask them about the killings, both husband and wife were under suicide watch by the community members. Ethiopian government stoop so low in 2016, the closest one gets to justice, was to go to afterlife via suicide.
So long 2016, we will remember you as a year that changed us all!