The Tigray War and Our Collective Moral Failure.

“A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power… which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion… condemns itself to death.” Chris Hedges

One chilly summer evening, by what I can only recall to be a random chance, I found myself at a party at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa. I had recently graduated from college and was enjoying a summer in my hometown. Unemployed yet very much enthusiastic, I had joined a group of well-dressed, well-educated, and impressively self-assured individuals who were inclined to say things like “where are you based?” instead of “where do you live?” or tell you passionately about the importance of giving back to their country as they provide a detailed account on how they happen to be doing so at the moment.

While I felt a little out of place being surrounded by mostly ambitious and well-accomplished people, I had no problems mingling with ease. You will be surprised where properly articulated English sentences and the right pair of tasteful high-heels can get you in life. Throughout the evening I met and conversed with many individuals, some of whom frequently grace us with their presence on our national newspapers and TV channels today. I met and chatted with a handsome young banker (not of your local variety), the type of man my mother wants me to bring home for dinner. He told me about his job which involves extensive international travel & frequent run-ins with important men I only know of in the media. “There is no reason Ethiopia can’t be the next China!” he had said excitedly, explaining how state led capitalism was the answer to our nation’s economic ills. I listened attentively to his invigorating talk with the occasional water sipping, making a mental note to myself to frequently glance through the pages of The Financial Times to further ease such conversations. Thankfully, my ignorance of the international financial world did not show, since after some minutes of having met me, he started calling over his friends to make introductions. “Come meet this brilliant young woman,” he had said to his friends, whose hands’ I shook politely. In case you are wondering, be assured this statement is not related to any objective assessment of talent or cleverness I may possess. It is simply that when one is in such a room, it is assumed that the fellow he or she will interact with is very much like who he assumes himself to be. So, of course, such rooms are crowded with the “brilliants,” the “trailblazers,” the “change makers,” and the “jegnits” of Addis. 

I also talked with a fellow jegnit who had gone back to school after a stint at Oxfam and was now doing her PhD dissertation on the societal perception of domestic violence on women in Addis Ababa. I listened and encouraged her passions full-heartedly, not forgetting to remind her of her brilliance before our conversation came to a close. I met another older woman who headed one of the big International NGOs’ East Africa offices, who was also kind enough to give me some advice on networking, including some names and phone numbers I should reach out to in the field. She narrated how she came from humble backgrounds to be a success and assured me I had all it takes to be an asset for my country. 

By the end of that evening, while tired from all the talking, smiling and polite nodding, my enthusiasm had not waned. It was clear much was required to join the who is who of the Addis professional elite. It was not too clear to me if I had what it took to reach the ranks and do what they call giving back. Most of the people in the room were smart; they had solid credentials to prove it, they were financially successful; talks of weddings at white sands beach resorts had already started to become a norm; they were assumably cosmopolitan; their language skills and agreement on the dullness of London’s weather hinted at it. Could I really join their rank? I was not too certain. My failure to take home to my mother even the banker who thought her daughter “so brilliant” forced me to not answer in the affirmative. 

Politics is discussed little in such settings, if at all. Globally, at the time Ethiopia was being hailed as a growth miracle, being made the poster child for the Africa Rising narrative. During those years Ethiopia was achieving double digit GDP growth, making people like my new banker friend confidently predict that the nation was destined to become the China of Africa. While everyone in the room was aware that our nation was one of the poorest in the world, they held a strong conviction that our luck was finally turning, and the trajectory now was toward the light. Through their work in civil societies, NGOs, and IFIs, these educated and forward-thinking Ethiopians would help bring Ethiopia into the 21st Century. Ethiopia offered what every young, ambitious and educated person wanted; an opportunity to achieve both prosperity and purpose, and to do so with class, style, and easy access to high end whisky & wine of one’s liking. I was lucky to be amid such a crowd, I had thought.

To be sure, my evening with the vivacious and seemingly cosmopolitan crowd of Addis Ababa paints only a fraction of the full Ethiopian picture of the time. The success stories and the enthusiasm of that evening leaves out a much darker and unconformable side. Being in that room, you would not know that as we sipped on our drinks & complimented each other on our outfits we were doing so in one of the most politically repressive nations in Africa. The 2010 Ethiopian election results reported EPRDF, the then ruling party headed by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, as having won almost a hundred percent of the votes. Journalists and human rights activists were constantly being persecuted, thrown in jails or exiled from the country. Torture of prisoners was commonplace. There was no doubt the government was ruling with an iron fist. But this iron fist was justified by the self-presumed movers and shakers of Addis as unfortunate but necessary. Many agreed that a nation cannot hope to achieve its democratic aspirations until it untangles itself from the stronger chains of poverty.

It has been a decade since that chilly evening in Addis. Several realities have changed since. Ethiopia is no longer led by the EPRDF but by the Prosperity Party, power having been consolidated under the young evangelical & populist Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed (a child of EPRDF himself). Ethiopia has abandoned pursuing a state led economic policy, instead following neoliberal economic policies led by the IMF and World Bank. The relatively secure nation that had managed to attract high levels of FDIs into the nation is now ripe with ethnic conflicts. Most devastatingly, the African Rising narrative headlines, as questionable as some of them were, have been replaced most recently by headlines of a war of biblical proportion – involving rapes, massacres, and famine – in Tigray.

Interestingly, the friends I met that evening and in many other similar get-togethers in Addis, still hold the conviction – while witnessing historical levels of human agony & devastation – that Ethiopia is still moving forward, the future even brighter. Their memory of the past has changed drastically. Now they remember those long-gone days as dark and oppressive, and the former regime as backward. The injustices they had dismissed as unavoidable for economic growth, is now viewed as the epitome of cruelty. “We finally have a modern leader who’ll take Ethiopia into the 21st century,” a “non-political” friend who, as I remember it, was quite satisfied with the nation’s former state, said to me.  

The Addis Ababa urban elite have swarmed towards the Prime Minister like bees to honey and he has certainly welcomed the embrace. The Prime Minister, for his part, has rewarded this enthusiasm for the change and prosperity he offers. More than any other time in recent history, he has welcomed into the central government a high number of urban technocrats with minimal allegiance to any specific political ideology. In the first few months of Abiy Ahmed’s premiership, I too had welcomed this change, viewing it as a sign the regime was attempting to open spaces for those who were competent, but not necessarily party loyalists. I was highly mistaken. Months into Abiy’s administration, while many still held hopes of building a genuine political arena representing all people, for those paying close attention it became clear that the Prime Minister was using these urban elites mainly as a front, a way to legitimize his regime as a liberal, democratic and modern one while he solidified his personal power in the most basic authoritarian of ways. Modern being roughly defined as cognac sipping at the Hyatt, walks at Entoto Park, spa days, fancy suits, a degree or two, and some foreign contacts in international institutions. Not too surprising, given complications and nuance rarely leave enough mental space for the “positive mindset” required to achieve prosperity of the Prime Minister’s variety .

As a thank you for the rewards of status and various privileges that come with power, the urban elite for their part have shown their gratitude unflinchingly. Some have gone from cheering Abiy as a true reformer, empathizing deeply with the unimaginable challenges he has inherited (an arguably harmless stance, albeit at times idiotic) all the way to supporting, denying and justifying systemic rape, massacres and an almost total destruction that has taken place in the war on Tigray (a painful failure the consequences of which we will no doubt reap). 

To be fair to these urban elites whose need for comfort, money and status has always been evident to the non-naïve, even human rights activists who were once celebrated for remaining neither blind nor indifferent to the abuses of the former regime, stand today alongside a Prime Minister who has openly attempted to downplay war crimes, including systemic rape of women. Today those who used to profess and stand up for ideals such as freedom, justice, and peace remain either mute or are complicit in the face of killings, rape, ethnic profiling, ethnic cleansing, harassment, imprisonment and abuse of their fellow citizens. The same individuals who preached about the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all individuals are seen sermonizing about the difficulty and complexity of running a diverse nation such as Ethiopia. They are seen arguing openly, for a nation to prevail it might, after all, be unfortunately unavoidable – even necessary – that some groups of humans pay with their very lives. Today we are forced to assume what we thought was a fight for justice, was only a fight for power. 

Ethiopian academics and intellectuals have not been any less disillusioning. These individuals, including those working & residing safely in various universities around the world have freed themselves from the basic responsibility a decent society puts upon its intellectuals – to pursue and speak truths. Intellectuals are in a unique and privileged position to expose the lies and deception of the powerful given they can do so with minimal risk of loss of livelihood, imprisonment or physical harm (real fears the average person has). Having spent years in study and training, they have the analytical tools at their disposal to help us differentiate fact from fiction, to help us remove the veil of deceit created by government propaganda. But what our intellectuals have chosen to do is be loyal to their ideological convictions instead of truths. They have chosen to cheer as the Prime Minister declared, “there were no civilian deaths” while engaged in a war, to celebrate as free and democratic an election with virtually zero genuine competition, and to excuse and explain away systemic rape and massacres as unfortunate consequences of war. They sing the songs of liberalism, democracy and morality in the Western classrooms within which they teach in the mornings, to only sit in front of their computers later that evening solemnly spieling to their Ethiopian audience about law and order, Ethiopian exceptionalism and the unforgivable sins of their disfavored groups. If I were not alive to witness it all as it is taking place, I would have certainly dismissed it as cynically written bad fiction.

There is something particularly pernicious about Ethiopia’s current state of affairs. Not only do elite groups of all stripes – technocrats, intellectuals, human rights activists, religious leaders, media – legitimize the actions of such a repressive government through an almost sadistic level of active support, but they do so with an added air of moral superiority. They have managed to sell to the public that a war that has mainly devastated innocent men, women & children is done in the pursuit for justice, to rid us of a special kind of evil that exists only over-there, never with us. Not only are we being told that death & destruction are a necessary evil, but that it is being done for our own good, for the good of Ethiopia. We, for our part, have chosen to believe it. 

I do not know how this war, ignited for the sake of power consolidation, will end or how we will manage to move forward as a nation. Our elites want us to believe that this is only the darkness the nation is experiencing before a great dawn. This is simply false (the Prime Minister’s unexpected military defeat and the possible continuation of inter-ethnic war in the region has proved this). There is no darkness that is being experienced by a tangible entity we collectively label as “Ethiopia” that either feels pain or anguish. The darkness is being experienced by individual humans; mothers who are burying their young sons, fathers who are forced to dry the tears of their raped daughters, families who watch as everything they have worked so hard to build destruct in front of their eyes. And even if it were true – if there will in fact be a great dawn after such chaos – which part of our collective consciousness is willing to accept a prosperity that comes at the price of innocent blood spilt and the tears of anguish shed by those we once called our people? 

If there is ever hope of a dawn, I know we will never reach it if we remain on our current path ripe with lies, deception, and denials. The powerful will do all they can to remain on this current path knowing full well they will cease to exist otherwise. But you and I have a choice. We do not need any special type of knowledge to know that all other humans feel pain as deeply as we do, that every life is worthy of love and protection, that we all have a right to life and the freedom to do what we choose with it, even those we consider our enemy. There are no complexities that need to be untangled before we confidently say “no” to the dehumanization of our people, no deep thought required to take no part in injustice and no accreditation necessary to speak basic truths to corrupt power. I may not be able to state with full certainty that with truth, love and compassion, we can change the world, but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt our rejection of them will guarantee us hell. 

Ethiopian Feminism: Revisited

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion…” John Stuart Mill


One of the most common critiques I received when I wrote Ethiopian Feminism, A critique was that my line of argument was a tired and common one i.e. arguing that feminism “ke’egna ba’hil ena haymanot wuchi new.” Some viewed it as a rather weak defense tactic used by Ethiopians unable to accept new ideas that might challenge their thinking. So I want to address this particular idea in this piece. Are those of us who are wary of accepting feminism as it’s currently being practiced- in Ethiopia and outside it- simply unreasonably too attached to traditional and religious ways of thinking? Are we being unreasonably resistant to a new idea that could potentially transform our entire society simply because we’re unfamiliar and lack an in-depth understanding of the ideology? Let us explore.


First, I feel it important to highlight and clarify some things. I do not in any way want to converse with a straw-man version of the movement basing my arguments simply against the loudest and extreme voices. I also do not believe that feminism should be condemned or destroyed in any way, this risks disregarding the positive role that feminists can, in fact, play in a society that can benefit much from the movement, such as increasing educational, political and economic opportunities for women who had traditionally been deprived of it, and potentially ridding our society from sexist and limiting attitudes towards women. Within the Ethiopian context, there are many real fights that need to continue to take place: female genital cutting, rape, gender-based violence, to name just a few specific ones. All of us, in our varied capacities, need to fight to make sure that girls are given the same opportunities as boys in all fields and are provided the secure space to do so. It has been my personal experience, that once you open up opportunities for women and you remove major barriers out of their way, they are more than capable of achieving the seemingly impossible.

I believe the overwhelming majority of individuals, traditionalist and religious ones including, support these ideas. The problem arises when we start looking at the specifics of some matters within the movement. From engaging in various conversations with others, witnessing the online bickering and spats and some hours of digging into the research, I’ve attempted to pinpoint the main differences between those who espouse to mainstream feminist thought and those who do not. I believe the divide stems from a number of premises that today’s feminist theory functions under, which are not necessarily accepted by the wider Ethiopian society. I’ll attempt to focus on one such premise: the patriarchy.

The patriarchy is a central concept in feminist theories. “Dismantling the patriarchy” is usually stated as a central goal in today’s feminist movements. The patriarchy is literally defined as the “rule of the father.” This, I believe, to be a historically accurate description of our societies. Historically, generally speaking, women were responsible for raising children and maintaining the home while men were tasked with going out to make a living, thus engaging in the social and political sphere. Because women were limited to their homes they lacked autonomy and authority in the public sphere. For instance, women’s capabilities to own property, to vote or have access to positions of political power were minimal at best. In some cases, women were even unable to control their daily activities and movements without a husband’s consent. This system left many women vulnerable, especially to potentially abusive men. All this is true. But today, under the feminist lens, the definition of the patriarchy has been expanded to mean beyond the simple “rule of the father” to mean a *the systemic bias* of a larger system dominated by men working actively against women. Meaning, when looking at history (and some current societies), rather than stating, “some men oppressed women” it is now considered that the oppression came from the underlying bias of a patriarchal society that actively chooses to oppress women. And here is where I believe the water get muddy and where the big divide exists.

Most people that have not been taught this idea, I’ve noticed, simply do not believe it. They do not recognize the patriarchy to be an all-encompassing evil that systematically oppressed all women. There are a number of questions that arise when one thinks of the patriarchy in such a manner. One rather simple one, and a question very much worth considering is why would men choose to systematically oppress women including their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, for the sake of holding power? What do men gain from such oppression? To give an example, it is argued that one way our traditions and religions, as dictated by men, have oppressed women is through preventing them from things such as expressing their sexuality, upholding virginity as an unnecessary ideal or encouraging marriage for women while not doing so for men to the same extent. This reality is viewed as a manifestation of the oppression of women perpetuated by our traditions and religions. This I believe to be too simplistic of an analysis.

Consider this: the birth control pill was not invented until 1960. It did not start to be used in Ethiopia until many years later. In 1990 the prevalence of contraceptive use stood at a mere 2%. Meaning, until this point in history, sexual intercourse that lasts a minute could result in pregnancy, a historically life and death situation for women. Even today only 34% of Ethiopian women of reproductive age have access to contraceptives, meaning a single sexual intercourse, can initiate unimaginable consequences specifically for the woman and the unborn child. So, looking at it from this angle, promoting marriage, celebrating virginity and limiting sexual liberation was societies collective attempt at protecting women, children and the community at large. Men, on the other hand, were not tasked by nature with the bearing and initial nurturing of children, thus affording them fewer restrictions. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering, the type of men that our traditional and religious societies choose to celebrate are the family men who carry the responsibility of their families, communities, and nations, not those who exercised their sexual liberation. It is worth mentioning here, this is not an argument against the utility of sexual liberation, given modern technological advances that argument can be had on a different day, this is to highlight the utility traditions and religions provided to deal with the rather harsh and arguably unfair realities of existence.

I believe it is because most Ethiopians see the nation’s history from such a standpoint that, while they acknowledge that our systems have patriarchal structures, even at times oppressive ones, they fail to see that the underlying basis of that structure to be one of oppression of women by men. I share in this view. When I look at our society, what I see is a social structure that was built by fallible individuals based on basic religious ethos to deal with the challenges of existing in a poverty-stricken land that had no mercy to men, women and children. This, of course, is in no way an attempt to draw some idealized version of history where women and men were “equal” (whatever equal means). This was not and is still not the case. Men’s ability to engage in the public sphere, while women were limited to the private sphere, coupled with their lack of biological obligations of childbearing and rearing, had given them an economic, educational and political advantage that women were unable to access. But prioritizing a narrative of men as oppressors and women perpetual victims is simply not only to fail to look at the full picture but to also, possibly unintentionally, paint women as weak objects without any agency.

So, while it is possible to argue that women are dealt with a unique set of sufferings throughout history and up to this day, it is difficult to reasonably put that at the feet of all men or a system that purposefully and systematically oppressed women for the sake of power. I think of all the men we’ve sent to war to die for our nation, and the wives and children who carried their set of responsibilities on the home-front, I think of the men that take on all the dangerous jobs – the electricians, construction workers, miners – who leave their homes for days on end to provide for their families, I think of the men being humiliated daily by poverty, unable to provide for their families yet wake up the next day to fight yet again… It’s when I think of such realities that the phrase – the oppressive patriarchy – gets choked in my throat.

From my vantage point, I find it extremely difficult to view the world with all its complications and decide that the majority of an individual’s or a group’s major sufferings is a result of one cause – in this case – the patriarchy. I always try to be wary of a single-cause explanation for complicated problems. For me, today’s Western-styled feminism, the way I’ve understood it so far, seems to offer essentially one explanation to the complicated problem of existing as a woman in this world, making it difficult to accept, without due diligence, the solution it brings forth to solve these problems; especially those that are presented with the simple premise that men are oppressors and women, victims. We need to appreciate the complexities of the challenges women face and be open and willing to have conversations, even difficult ones, so that we’ll achieve what I believe we all want, a just society for both men and women. We need to acknowledge that religious and traditional teachings that have served civilizations across the globe for thousands of years might still offer explanations and solutions to human challenges, even to our seemingly ‘woke’ 21st-century ones.

As stated at the beginning of the article, this piece is not an attempt to dismiss the work that Ethiopian feminists attempt to do, far from it. This is my attempt at diversifying the conversation, to possibly add some nuance to a dialogue that seems to be dominated by mainstream feminists who are, at times, too certain that their perspectives of our societies and their prescribed solutions to Ethiopian women’s problems are the only ones worth considering. This is my attempt at highlighting the fact that those who have disagreements with some aspect of the movement may actually *not* be uneducated, ill-intentioned, nurturers of “fragile masculinity,” “guardians of the patriarchy” –  ignorant to even know that they’re being oppressed, thus “complicit in their own oppression,” or out of touch – as some have suggested. Such accusations, I find to be dangerous, intellectually disrespectful and damaging to the very cause feminism stands for. One who is standing on the side of reason and logic has no need to demean or insult. In fact, what he/she will have is the courage to engage in difficult conversations, opening him/herself up to have his/her beliefs questioned, even ripped apart, knowing the end result will be having a respectable firm ground to stand on. These conversations matter because ideas matter. Ideas we hold shape who we are as individuals, communities and nations. So, if we hope to build strong individuals, communities and nations, we need to discuss these ideas with integrity, humility and courage. The way I see it, that’s the only way we’ll be able to move forward with relative success and minimal suffering for all.


The Personal Vs The Political.

It’s 2018 and the world is ending.

As I turn on the evening news, scroll through my social media feeds or visit my local bookstore, politics is all I see. Ten years ago, this would have left me thrilled and invigorated. Today it leaves me a wee bit excited, a lot more cautious and a tad bit tired.

On the excited days, I think to myself – this world needs to change, we need to implement democracy, rights need to be respected, justice needs to be upheld, poverty needs to be eliminated, we need to overcome, I need to help usher in change!

On the more cautious days I remind myself, I don’t even do my dishes properly.

On the tired days, I drink coffee.

Political engagement is our civic duty. As the saying goes, the penalty for not participating in politics is being doomed to be ruled by fools. But in today’s world where everything seems to have become political, where we’ve all divided up into various tribes fighting for the rights of *our* group, believing the source of our discontents to be *them* and *the system,* it might be time for some reassessments, an attempt to draw a line between the personal and the political. To draw the line not necessarily to separate the two, but to fully grasp the idea that the actions and thoughts that take place in our private spaces are what will bring about the change we seek. In other words, I’m more likely to affect the world positively if I do my dishes properly, promptly and gracefully than I am screaming through twitter, pointing out your idiocy. Allow me to explain.

Political engagement today has moved beyond making our voices heard through our polling stations. Now we feel obligated to become “agents of social change,” activists in our own right. Because we live in the 21st century with access to technology that allows us to reach potentially millions of people (or 2 friends at minimum), our computers have become our podiums from which we pronounce our convictions and denounce injustice and all things we deem ill in society. Our voices get louder with every ‘like’ and attitudes stauncher with every comment. All of it feels so real, so consequential. And it might be, who knows. But there’s a little part in the back of my brain that nags incessantly, calling it all much of it bullshit.

As someone who loves politics and engaging discussions, my fingers are having a hard time putting these paragraphs together. Because, in the spectrum of political engagement, from running for office to a being an apathetic viewer, I might come off as leaning towards the apathetic viewer, which is quite unfortunate, if I may say so myself. But I have my reasons. Political discussions have almost completely ceased to be informative or productive. We’ve turned what is supposed to be a discussion to reach some sort of consensus of ideas, into a sports match where the point is to defeat our opponent at any cost. We no longer simply disagree with the ideas of our opponents, we question their moral standing, their humanity. Just the other day, there was news about a certain individual with a certain political view that was given a high position in the current Ethiopian government administration. The response to the news, from some, wasn’t about how they disagreed with the decision because of some policy this person supported, that would be too easy apparently. It was a direct attack on the man himself. He was not only viewed as wrong or ill informed on his opinions and beliefs, but as deeply immoral, almost evil.

We have simply ceased to engage, we rage. We are so caught up in our superiority, of both intellect and morality, that all we do is preach and lecture. We speak not in an attempt to articulate an idea so that it will help us move forward in finding some sort of truth, but merely to hear our own voices. We listen not in the hopes of learning something new or broadening our perspectives, but to weaponize words and attack. What most of us seek is not answers or truth, we’re seeking information to reinforce our formerly held ideas. We have an agenda to pursue and anything that doesn’t fit into our narrative is discarded as biased and flawed. We’ve rid ourselves of nuance and paint the world as black and white. Someone is either good or evil, privileged or victim, with us or against us. We think, If only our political party won, if only our side held power, if only they listened to us, if only they weren’t corrupt, then we’d be free and prosper, then we could finally rest. We, so confidently, place ourselves on the side of David fighting Goliath, unaware we might be Goliath himself.

Our political engagement has become an exercise in futility. It’s like we’re running on a treadmill all day and thinking we’re reaching our destination. We ain’t.

Thus, the utility of washing your dishes – properly, promptly and with grace.


I must have been 14 at the time, I was at the main gate of Black Lion Hospital, Addis Abeba, with my uncle (a second father to me) waiting to enter the facility. Unfortunately for us, we had arrived outside of visiting hours, so the hospital guard would not let us enter. Being familiar with the policies of the hospital (both formal and inform), I simply looked at my uncle waiting for him to follow the informal policy and slip the guard 5 birr (the going rate at the time) so he’d let us in. To my utter shock and disappointment, my uncle simply informed me that we shall wait (in the burning Addis sun) until it was time to legally enter the facility. My attempts at arguments (it was only 5 birr!) did not work. There would be no bribing that day, not from him anyways.

This incident has been etched into my memory more deeply than anything else I can imagine. I’ve told the story countless times as a kid to demonstrate how *crazy* he was and laugh. I tell it now to demonstrate that it is only through the integrity and humility of the individual that societies flourish. My uncle stood up for his principles when it seemingly did not matter much. For him, It mattered not that the system was already corrupt, that no one would really know and praise him for his actions or that in the grand scheme of things, his actions were single clean drops in a diluted ocean. What mattered was simple: do the right thing – every single, clean drop counts because that is what makes up the ocean. After that day, every time I paid trivial bribes to guards, every time I told my white lies, every time I weaseled my way through projects giving the bare minimum, I thought of him and felt a little shame – every time.

We rage against the corruption that’s so rampant in government, while everyday we pay off the police to get out of a ticket. We seethe about the lies that we’re being fed by the media, but on a daily basis we ‘white-lie’ to our friends and family to avoid confrontation and criticism. We complain of the sub-par work of every government institution, but we can’t even keep our sinks clean. If we are to believe that our personal lives are microcosms of our wider society (which it is), how exactly have we carried our personal responsibilities? If our inner thoughts and private actions were to be broadcast-ed on the 8 O’clock news, how exactly would we feel? Would we really be out here calling out every perceived wrong or would we cower in shame of our ignorance and arrogance?

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people, until they change what is in themselves.” (Quran, 13:11)

This is not an argument against political engagement, it’s not even an argument against seemingly silly online spats (even those can have value if done the right way) – it’s through engaging with one another, however uncomfortable, that we can move forward in our thinking and actions. What this is, is an argument against self righteousness, willful blindness to our flaws and arrogance of the worse kind – the kind that makes us feel that *we* have all the answers – if only *they* would just open their minds, if only *they* were not so ignorant, if only *they* were on the side of good, then we could surely usher in our utopia.

It’s 2018 and the world is doing alright. It can even do better, if only we can wash our dishes right – properly, promptly and with grace.

Ethiopia’s Ethnic-Federalism: The chickens are coming home to roost.



“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” – John F. kennedy


If you’re following news from Ethiopia or scrolling down any of your social media feeds, you know that various uprisings resulting from political and economic dissatisfactions are taking place mainly in the Amhara and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. If you’re well versed on the political and economic history of Ethiopia, this piece will only serve as a quick evening read, but if you’re confused as to what’s going on or are more likely to skip any news regarding Ethiopian politics because it just confuses you, then this will serve as a helpful, and hopefully fun, read about our political history (or at least provide enough info to make you sound smart next time you’re at a party making small talk about the topic).

Ethiopia and our Ethnicities.

Ethiopia is one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world, with about 80 ethnic groups calling it home. Here is the breakdown:

Oromo – 34.4%

Amhara – 27%

Somali – 6.2%

Tigray – 6.1%

Sidama – 4%

Gurage – 2.5%

Others – 19.8%

(2007 Census)

As you might imagine, governing a nation with such diverse groups of people can be quite challenging. How does a nation accommodate and address the cultural, political and economic needs of a people that may not necessarily see things eye to eye, especially when those people have had complicated relationships with one another? This is a question that has been tackled for decades in Ethiopia and it was a key question that needed to be addressed in 1991 when the current ruling party (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) headed by the Tigrayan People Liberation Front (TPLF)) came into power after ousting the socialist Derg regime.

Historically, federalism is used as a system of governance in nations with vast and diverse people. In such nations, power is shared between a central government and regional governments. Federalism is used as a way to keep a nation united under one flag, while at the same time upholding democracy for all groups of people. Thus, the idea that federalism would/should be implemented in Ethiopia was a no-brainer. The surprise came when it was decided that Ethiopia would function under ethnic-based federalism. This decision, in my opinion, is akin to buying a newly renovated house with ‘termite issues’ you neglected to address. It looks great and functional on the outside, but it’s only a matter of time before it all comes slowly crashing down.

According to the 1995 constitution, the nation was to be divided into 9 regional states or kililoch based on ethnic territoriality. The constitution highlighted the equality of nations and nationalities, for example by giving all states a right to use their language. Member states were entitled to adopt their own constitution, flags and anthems. More importantly if the need/want arises, all states were given the right to secede. Centralized rule under a single ethnic group was viewed as the source of abuse and discrimination, thus federalism was to deliver us justice and prosperity.

Why Ethnic Federalism?

We need to do a little history-101 if we want to understand the ‘why’ of the matter. Ethiopia is a multi ethnic nation (a fact worth repeating to highlight the complexity and challenge of the situation), with one group having always dominated the other. Historically the Amhara ethnic group has enjoyed the privileges that come with power. You do not really need to open history books to be aware of the political, economic and cultural power this group has enjoyed over centuries of our history. For example, the simple fact that I’m multi-ethnic, but only speak Amharic fluently (I’m not Amhara, no doubt I have the blood somewhere in me) and wear ‘hager libs’ (notice the term itself) to represent Ethiopia and identify doro wet as the traditional Ethiopian meal (which no doubt should be hulbet meregh btw!) says enough about the cultural hegemony the Amhara ethnic group has enjoyed in our nation.

As you might imagine, for one group to dominate, there needs to be others to dominate over, thus come all the lands and people that have been ruled over by the Amharas. For centuries, various ethnic groups have felt ostracized and abused by the powers that be. Most obviously the Oromo (the most populous ethnic group of the nation) have been a people that have felt marginalized economically, culturally and politically. Other ethnic groups have felt similarly over the years, including the Tigrayans and much of the people of the South. Remember, when a community’s culture and language is disregarded, it very much robes them of respect and dignity, which are basic human rights. When that identity is not recognized, there is a good chance their political rights will also not be recognized. Thus, it should not be surprising that various ethnic based resentments exist in our history and persist to this day.

So, it was to resolve such grievances and address the lack of human rights that ethnic federalism was set up by the EPRDF. When the 1995 constitution was being drafted, the idea was that ethnic groups would be given the right to rule themselves, thus no longer feel marginalized or abused. If this sounds pretty fair and square to you, get ready to have your bubble blown. The problem with all of this is that while it sounds logical in theory, it almost never works in reality. I won’t bore with examples of nations that demonstrate why (if interested, Google Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia…). While ethnic federalism has the potential to protect the rights of all, it also has the potential to make people start to strongly identify with their specific ethnicity more than the identity of the collective (for example feeling more Gurage or Oromo than Ethiopian), easily creating an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ There are many who argue that TPLF purposefully used this system of governance to divide and rule the nation while holding on to the real power. Looking at events today, this theory may have some merit, but I’m not one to delve into guessing of intentions, so I’ll leave that for you to decide.

But, here we are today, 2016, and grievances are ripe as ever. While our constitution says that all ethnic groups are equal under the eyes of the law, reality seems to point to the opposite direction. The current regime, dominated by TPLF, is constantly being accused of human rights abuses, preferential treatment of its own people and stifling any dissent that may arise. What is taking place today is almost a natural progression of what happens when a people are made to claim their ethnicities as the core of who they are. If a goverment prioritizes a people’s ethnicity as their main identity, it should not come as a surprise when the people use that same identity to organize themselves and fight for what they believe in. When a people feel discriminated and abused because of their ethnic identity, it is natural for them to hold on to that identity when they attempt to regain what they perceive to be their constitutionally given rights and self respect.

Decades old ethnic based grievances coupled with crippling poverty of the masses are a dangerous combination for any nation to face. The staggering income inequality that currently exists will most likely worsen the situation. I do not have the insight or knowledge to predict what the future holds for our nation but I hope we all learn to have productive conversations, based on facts and some compassion, about these issues so that we can move forward and hopefully contribute to the prosperity of our nation.

Tena Yistelegn.

Addis – First Impressions.

This is the first of, hopefully, many articles that will be posted on the this blog from other contributing writers. The following piece was written by Feker Tadesse, a former DC resident, IV league’r, habesha gal who currently works as a consultant in our beloved city, Addis Abeba, thus making her our new “correspondent” from Addis. Enjoy.



By Feker Tadesse.


It’s been about a month and a half since I took the plunge and moved back home, to the confusion and chagrin of most people around me. I say most because there were equally supportive friends and family who saw this move as an exciting adventure. I shouldn’t paint myself as a hero since it remains to be seen whether I made a good or yeseytan joro aysmana, a bad decision.

The oddest thing about this move was that it was largely a practical decision, and not an emotional one as many would assume. I studied development and it just didn’t make sense to do it from a metropolitan city thousands of miles away from where all the action was happening. Having said that, there is a certain level of satisfaction about doing what I do here in Ethiopia. As one friend wrote, part of the reward is about ‘giving back to the place that made you who you are.’

Where should I begin about dear Addis? There is both an energetic and suffocating feel to the city. You see the youth involved in exciting projects or constantly hustling to get involved in some. Suffocating because there are just a LOT of people in the city. The icing on the cake is construction of roads happening all over the city, making it impossible for both pedestrians and drivers to safely navigate the city’s streets. Traffic has become a nightmare given that major roads have been closed due to a railway construction that is hoped to be unveiled in three years. In retrospect, I could have worked a little bit more on my timing.

I perhaps look at things a little more clearly, more critically and to some, I’m sure, I’ll sound annoyingly judgmental about our ways. Jarring comments about homosexuality being a sin and the utter disgust people express when speaking about Betty (wholeheartedly agree with this post HERE by the way), remind me about how conservative our society is or at least, pretends to be. Or getting berated by a family friend for suggesting her daughter look into PhD programs after undergrad. ‘Timirtu lay focus sitareg gizewa yihedal.’ Huh? Times like these is when I realize how removed I feel from the society.

Of course, there are moments when I feel like I’ve never stepped foot outside of home, such as the comfort I feel when I spend my Sunday mornings sipping coffee begabi tetekliye, chatting with my parents about the latest gossip, tv humming in the background, the room enveloped by the heavenly smoke that emanates from the Itan. I am reminded of the constant anxiousness I felt in the states and there is a certain level of peace I already feel. A taxi driver in DC once told a friend and myself that immigrants will always feel schizophrenic about their identities, much like Zadie Smith, in White Teeth, describes one of her characters, a second generation Pakistani residing in London, “ … stood schizophrenic, one foot in Bengal and one foot in Wellsden.” Perhaps I will always feel that way but it has ceased to bother me anymore. I don’t quite know how to explain it but I feel surrounded with love, which for now, more than makes up for all the line cutting, random power outages and abuse you suffer from random strangers. I just came back from lunch with colleagues where a stalker insulted a colleague, calling her ‘yenech ashker’ because she dared confront him about his stalkish qualities. Times like these I wish I had continued with my Taekwondo class so that I can karate chop anyone who dared speak to me like that. Ah well, what’re you gonna do?

Our city as always is a site of contrasts. For every drastic story you hear about someone getting laid off and struggling to make ends meet, in the next breath, you hear about destination weddings in Mauritius. It boggles my mind how such dramatically opposite lifestyles could exist side by side. And of course there’s the guilt you can’t help but feel, that comes and goes like those shooting pains you experience once in a while. They’re not so serious that you should seek professional help but nevertheless add a certain level of discomfort to your life. In the States, I never felt guilty for wishing to drive my favorite car (a fancy BMW, preferably a convertible on days when I feel like letting my hair down, ‘tsegurishin go back iyalsh’ as my uncle once described.) Here, I feel guilty for even coveting one because the difference is just so … striking. Living in the US, you can comfortably wish for the American dream complete with your 2.5 kids and a two garage, 5 bedroom house because for the most part (although that is debatable now more so than ever), you know that if anyone works hard, that life is attainable by all. Nothing special about you to make you flinch or think twice about it. No such formula here I’m afraid. Yes there are stories of the self-made man and woman who weathered all odds to make that dream come true, but these stories are few and far in between. There is also, of course, the urban poverty that makes you cringe every time you leave one of the many posh restaurants in Addis after having paid an average of 100-150 Br for lunch. Given time, the homeless blur and seem to blend in with the construction sites of Addis until you notice them no more. A friend was telling me that you need to give a homeless person at least 1.25Br, which is the price for a piece of bread nowadays. I wonder if our legash hands have kept up with the inflation …

All is not so grim, obviously. It IS home after all and Addis has a certain flavor that is uniquely comic. The other day, I was having dinner with a group of friends or rather, we had ordered and we were anxiously waiting for the food to arrive. Our wiater comes back after oh about 40 minutes, cocks his head so and announces, with a pitiful look on his face, ‘Yikirta, pasta alkual!’ To which we all burst out laughing, shocking even him in our reaction. Only in Addis eh? Or the time when a colleague went to her favorite breakfast joint and asked for ‘enkulal firfir’ to which the waiter adamantly stated that under no circumstances was he going to serve ‘firfir’ but she could have the ‘enkulal sandwhich’ instead. She had to call the chef and demand that if they had the eggs, why can’t he just ‘meferfer’ them?! The chef reluctantly acquiesced. The nerve! Or the time when a particularly witty weyala, having witnessed a couple kissing on bole road, shouted ‘diaspora mechem tegboal zendiro’.

I oscillate between feeling like a complete fraud, purporting to help the poor while enjoying the sort of lifestyle I lead in Addis and feeling useful and good about what I do. It’s like what E.B. White said, “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

Makes it hard indeed!

Holier than thou.


I recently heard about Betty, the contestant on Big Brother Africa. I have never watched the show and I didn’t know we even had an Ethiopian contestant on it. I’m not even sure what the show is about, but what I do know is that Betty, our Ethiopian gal had sex with a fellow contestant while the camera was rolling. I watched the clip, but most importantly I read the comments made by my fellow Habeshas.

Asedabi,” “asafari,” “ehe ye’ethiopiawi sera aydelem,” “bahelachenen gedel ketetechew,” the impassioned  comments went on and on. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the whole situation. Of course my initial reaction, given I’m what you might call a typical Habesha with a bit of a conservative inclination on some matters, was that of embarrassment. Why would anyone do this knowing they were on camera? But then, I couldn’t help but think about how we, Habeshas, have become such hypocrites. Were we so outraged about her actions or that her actions were caught on camera? Because if it is her actions that is enraging us, then i call bullshit.

I don’t know how the people of the previous generation acted or conducted themselves. They might have been the chewa, sew akbari, egzihabeheren feri individuals that we were told to emulate growing up. But let me tell you, the men and women of my generation, may fantasize to be these things, but we are far from it. I’m only speaking here from personal experience, so feel free to correct me if you feel I’m mistaken, or if your experience has led you to a different conclusion.

Sex in our community has become nothing more than a simple source of physical pleasure. The things that are normally and traditionally attached to it – love, intimacy, commitment are rarely found within it. For instance, if you’re a guy living in Addis with some cash to spare, and you’re looking for a “good time,” that’s exactly what you’ll get. In fact you probably don’t have to do much to look for it. The  ladies in our modern age, it seems, put out easy. Today’s city dwelling women are not the women of your granny’s generation – meshkormem doesn’t work today. You don’t even have to see the nightlife in Addis to witness this, walking down Bole road shall suffice.

This is not only in regards to the single men and women out there. Some marriages have become a way to simply conform with “our tradition” because after the wedding, life sure enough, goes on. I’ll sadly say, I know more marriages that are dealing with the issue of infidelity, then those that are dealing with “communication issues” or whatever other issue we tell others we’re having.  The idea of weshema, a term I viewed to be ‘old,’ used only in writing, is so common now,even newly built condominiums are making some profit from the practice. The interesting part is no one seems to be shocked by this. In some circles it’s almost a source of laughter and amusement.

So why all the outrage? Do we really believe that this girl is not a true reflection of her community? Does she not represent the modern urban dweller of Ethiopia? Or are we pissed that she dared to do it in the open, going against the natural Ethiopian love of keeping everything a secret, behind closed doors?

Please keep in mind I’m not making any moral judgement here on people who view sex to be a casual form of entertainment, it definitely can be that – to each his own. But let’s not mefogager, let’s get rid of  this holier than thou mentality. Let us not be so quick to condemn, when we know in our heart of hearts we’re not as chewa, as egziabeheren feri as emaye wanted us to be. Whether it’s all The Sex and the City episodes us modern ladies watched, or the new-found money that seems to be in the pockets of the upper/middle-class or the liberal diaspora with their “liberated” selves, whatever the reason – let us at least acknowledge, we ain’t all that holy.

Tena Yistelegn.

Melkam Addis Amet!

Endemen kermachuhal? Our wonderful and beloved New Year has dragged me out of the shell i’ve been in the past couple of weeks (or has it a been wee bit more?) Living in my head most hours of my day is what makes me crave sharing my thoughts with you. But surprisingly these past couple of weeks i’ve done the stepping out of the head and into the world thing more often. “Cogito ergo sum” Descartes had once said, but i’ve somehow managed to distance myself from this thinking, i am now not because i think, i am because i feel, because i live in the moment, because i feel the sun on my skin, the anger in my veins, the music in my soul, the swagger in my groove. As Eckhart Tolle redefined it, i feel therefore i am.

The positive attitude a New Year manages to bring out in the most cynic of a man/woman never ceases to amaze me. The smoker will throw out his cigarettes for the hundredth time in the hopes of beating his addiction. The chubby girl will sign a new contract at the gym in the hopes of becoming fit and fabulous ( Oh how many times have i been down that road). The student will aim for that A that will surely be achieved this year (books bought, syllabus read, mind ready). It matters little, really, weather these goals are achieved. It is the hope, the joy, the excitement of a second chance, or a third, or a forth. It’s very similar to spending your last 5 bucks on a lottery. Weather you realize it or not, your subconscious knows your chances of hitting the jackpot are slim to none, but you do it anyways – for the hope, for the possibility of what could be, for what you can be. The beauty of a New Year, though, lays within the fact that the possibility of achievement is much higher than winner a lottery. You can almost taste it – it’s right there in front of you, the world is bright again!

For most of us away from home, the Addis Amet might be bitter sweet. A New Year without Doro wet and defo dabo, without abebayehosh and adey abeba, without meto haya program and the oh so fabulous ladies, with birr plastered on their foreheads, hitting the eskesta like it ain’t never been hit before, hardly sounds like a new year worth celebrating. But we sure will make it. Some of us will get down to the hip version of abebayehosh by Teddy Afro at the habesha concerts and parties that will surely take place in every “habesha city.” Some will attempt to create their Ethiopia homes in their apartments spending half the time maragebign the buna chis away from the smoke detector, and some will spend it in the virtual world sending out their wishes for all the world to see that it’s their new year, their day.

Whichever way you choose to spend it, here is a cheers from my tiny corner of the world. I raise my glass to having survived the passing year. I raise my glass to endless possibilities, to bright futures, to unflinching dreams. I raise my glass to love, passion and compassion. I raise my glass to living each moment to the fullest, to embrace simple pleasures and to many days of laughter. I raise my glass to you.

Melkam Addis Amet!

Habesha Gatherings Etiquette.

Dear Diary,

You and I haven’t crossed paths lately. I’m not quite sure why. Possibly because I’ve been too busy, or maybe it’s because I’m too embarrassed to admit that I’ve become a ‘menga among the menages?‘ Remember when we promised never to become one of those? Ay lijinet! Many things have changed since I last wrote to you – Americans sent a black guy to the White House who, by the way, managed to kill that terrorist (talk about a cliche), the Arabs have been busy with revolutions, it is rumored that Ethiopians are now paying 180 birr for one Kilo of coffee, and I have started recycling.

But onto more serious matters. I hear there will be a huge gathering of Ethiopians in the Peach State in a matter of weeks. Such gatherings happen every year during the weekend of the 4th of July. It’s quite the anticipated event. Thousands of habesha people get together to watch football (the real one) and party those couple of nights away. Don’t think it’s happening in some yewedeke venue, as some might expect, no sir, it’s ain’t. It will be centered, i hear, at a huge Dome where the Americans play their version of eger kuass (incase you’re wondering there is no involvement of eger in this game.)

As you might expect, there are a list of etiquette one is advised to follow during such gatherings involving our people. So in case you decide to visit the State during that week, I’ve decided to share a few of them with you.

For one, you better not look shabby when you arrive to the event. The event is strictly ‘gotata free.’  Which is why, i hear, every habesha male and female goes onto a shopping spree at least 2 months in advance, even if they have to go on a diet of noodles and yegzer weha to make it happen. No one is going to get caught dead looking less than average. I must say, this gives me quite the worry since the only shopping i’ve done lately, and i assume this will be the case for a while to come, is at babiesrus. Hmmm I wonder if they carry sesky shoes for mamas? ( you know what, this could be a great business idea to pitch to the babiesrus people! hotmamasrus?… possible? No? ok i’m trailing of.)

Second, I hear you gotta have a lil extra dough in hand (as taboo as it is to discuss money, a good friend shared this insight with me). Aside from the expected expenses you may have when deciding to join this party, ( hotel, transportation, meals, drinks) you may find yourself in a situation where you feel you will have to pay for others. “Have to” here is a very sensitive and culture specific phrase. You won’t be forced to wash dishes if, say, you don’t pay for a meal. But yilugnta, the trigger of major stress in every Habesha, and ego, the torturer of every Habesha man, will force you to do so. Since the Habesha female suffers less from the issue of 10 anbessa autobiss-put-together sized ego, this problem is faced mainly by men.

Third, Fugera, for this week only, is allowed. Actually in some circumstances, it’s also advised. Keep in mind, this act is only allowed under a need-to-save-face bases. Don’t let yourself be caught in a highly exaggerated fugera. You won’t want to be blowing your own horn to be heard all the way to Timbuktu, one reaching the Metro area shall suffice. This is the case because of the countless high school and other related reunions that take place during the gathering. Let’s face it, there’s always that idiot overachiever that oozes out ‘i got a great life and i look better than you’ bullshit from his every pore. So feel free to embellish a little bit about your own life. Life ain’t perfect, and if you feel like you’ve been thrown a little more than your share of curve balls, and you don’t feel like being thrown a pity party by the idiot or that chemlaka ye’bole lij, forget your reality for that week, feel and look fabulous – yet abatu – man ke man yansal!

These are only a handful of etiquette that i hear will be respected by every Habesha that will be attending this year’s July 4 celebration taking place in Atlanta, GA. Lucky for me, since i currently reside in the city, if the above rules and regulations seem a bit too much, i shall spend my days at home, with my not so fancy attire and my in-need-of-some-embellishment lifestyle. But if i feel up to it, i shall join the party looking fabulous. And incase i run into you, Dear Diary, i promise to buy you the meal (ok, maybe not the meal, but definitely the drink), just remember to limit the Fugera, eshi.

Tena Yistelegn.

A Letter from a friend: “My First Love.”

         I thought i’d share a wonderful letter a friend sent me a few years back on her “first love” i.e Addis Ababa, and her more recent love – Washington, DC. Enjoy.

        “I don’t need to tell you that it’s not what you’re thinking; obviously. The first love I’m talking about is Addis, my beloved city. I was coming back from work today and in the train, I finished reading Dinaw’s “The beautiful things that heaven bears”. I can’t even begin to describe the emotions that book evoked in me. But more about that later. I was in the train and looking out of the metro windows, lost in my own world of nostalgia, sadness and just pure wonder at the ability of someone to express himself so well. Then suddenly it hit me that the moment perfectly coincided with my melancholic mood because it was twilight; and twilight used to be my favorite part of the day in Addis. You know that time of the day, the sun is just setting, smell of ‘tikus yekeseat dabo’ in the air, distant voices of weyalas screaming their head off and that oh so beautiful breeze that is unique to Addis. At a moments like this, I just bow my head and thank God for being alive.

 And today, today it was one of those days … the whole outside world resembled Addis and I said to myself, maybe DC will be my second love. For its easy to fall in love with it … the bustle, diversity, convenience, … life of it all. Like Addis there are things that break your heart. Take, for example, this African American guy who, when a friend was passing him by says hello to her and she, like we’re used to doing in Addis, ignores him and walks on, and he replies … “yeah you’re right, this is nobody.” Or when you see the general discrepancy amongst people of the city, immigrants vs natives, blacks vs whites, etc. And just like Addis, it has its slums and its version of ‘bole’. I could think of a thousand reasons to love it, from its coffee shops, to the malls to the clubs, little things that creep up on you until you wake up one day, and realize you have yet again fallen in love with another one. But Addis? Too many memories etched inside my head for me to ever let go. If you asked me what of the city I missed most now, it would definitely be … how do i describe it … ok let me try. You know that time of the morning around 5ish (kelelitu 11 seat) and everyone is sleeping, dawn is breaking, and for some reason or another tibanignalesh? You know you don’t need to get up but you can’t fall asleep right away either. So you snuggle in bed, happy that you have a few more hours of sleep. And then … you hear them. The weyalas … you remember how close our house was to the ‘taksi tera’? It was just the most beautiful sound. It is faint with none of the chaos of the day, almost like they were making music of their own. On rare occasions when I would accompany my mom to church, this sound I used as my incentive to pull myself out of bed. And yesterday in the train, I realized that was the only thing missing from DC, lol. You see, iza honen indeza indtaltesadebin … i’m telling you, we might as well drop the search for satisfaction … human beings are way too fickle for that.
Love you, “

Dignity: What ought to be and what is.

          Dignity is a term that’s used to signify that all human beings have a right to respect and ethical treatment irrespective of their economic, political or cultural background. It is related to both self-respect and the respect we give to others. It’s something every human being deserves whether they are our friend, neighbor, parent or president. It’s also something that we deprive each other of so often, mostly giving respect only to those we deem better, be it cultural, economical or political.

          A recent article on the huffingtonpost ( discussing the racist behavior of some Lebanese individuals towards some Ethiopians was what made me ponder about this idea of dignity and why millions of individuals are depreived of it. When i first read this article, i couldn’t help but be angry – the outrageousness of the situation! Death is one of the few things all human being have in common, it is a reminder of how fragile we are, it’s one of the few times when we should feel true humility, at least that’s what i thought. But, even at such a tragic time, some grievances were seen to be more worthy than others, some heartaches comanded higher priority.

This realization was heartbreaking for me, putting it lightly. It was heartbreaking because i realized the harshness of the reality we currently live in – the huge gap between what ought to be and what is.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 states in Article 1 : “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in spirit of brotherhood.”

You can’t help be baffled both by the  sweetness and bullshitness of it all.  

Yes, we should respect other people, regardless of how different they are. Yes, we should respect that poor women who helps clean the house. Yes, we should respect the lunatic who thinks he’s better than everyone… yes even him, he does, sadly, fall into the group of category of human beings. But how many of us really do?

The racism shown by some Lebanese towards the grieving Ethiopian families who lost their loved ones on flight ET409, while infuriating, should make us aware of, not only the racism we face as individuals or as a people, but also the countless biases that is within each and every one of us. If you’re Ethiopian and have lived in Ethiopia, i’m willing to bet you’ve seen a woman working as a house-maid being abused within an Ethiopian home. This is a reality that many of us may not feel comfortable admitting, but it is a reality that exist on a daily bases. Most of us might actually even be immune to it, view it as a norm. Haven’t you had that aunt who yells from the top of her lungs at the help because wetu chew becha selehone or betun abuara selemolaw? Yes, it happens, and you know it quite well. It may not be physical abuse, but the mental abuse – the lack of respect – exists. 

The problem of dignity or the lack of, of course  is no way a Lebanese or an Ethiopian problem, it’s a problem we as human beings face. Mere humanness does not seem to suffice for us to render one another as worthy of respect, we attach so many other factors in the equation – money, status, even appearances, that the pure concept of dignity itself is lost. This is something we all have to take into account on a daily bases and do our best to over come. We’re not being asked to love a people, or even to like them, but to simply respect them for what they are – human beings. Of course, if you can show the love, even better – It is, after all, what ought to be.