October 3, 2011
Prof. Mesfin Wolde-Mariam pays a personal tribute to Debebe Eshetu, a veteran actor and political activist, who was imprisoned a month ago, on charges of ties to terrorism. His onetime prison inmate, Prof. Mesfin says that Debebe is a wonderful and kind person who hates terrorist act of any kind.Here is the tribute translated from the Amharic weekly Feteh.
Like many Ethiopians, I knew Debebe Eshetu on stage. After all, he is one of this country’s most popular actors. But I came to know him in person right after 2004, when we happened to be political allies. In 2005, we were both sent to kaliti prison, along with other opposition leaders and journalists. It was during our confinement that we came to form close friendship. At Kaliti, we were in the same compound, sharing the meals and drinks that were brought to us. We spent lots of time together, talking and debating issues.
Debebe is a kind of man who gets along with those around him well. He addresses the old and young as equal partners, which had helped him in prison. He displays respect for people, regardless of whom he is dealing with. He even served as a go-between between us and prison officials.
After our release from jail, the friendship with him and his family continued. Especially when I was sick and had difficulty driving, he transported me to the hospital. He is always willing to help others and is always on hand to help a friend in need, even if that means putting himself in a not easy situation.
Debebe is good company and a joy to be with. He is gentle-manly to his opponents, and exudes an abundance of personal charm. When conversations get quarrelsome and confrontational, he is good at bringing the crowd into calm by injecting sense of humor and witty remarks into those forays. He has a way of transforming acrimony into harmony. He defines a powerful control of self. Things which are difficult for others are easy for him.
Debebe is a family man. At the age of 69, he is married to his wife for 38 years and he is devoted to his family, offering support and guidance. He is a father four, a grandfather of five who passionately adored him.
Debebe is a household name who has a significant place in Ethiopian art scene. He acted in dozen plays in the National Theatre, Hager Fikir Theater, Ras Theatre. He not only left his mark in Ethiopian cultural history but also contributed a lot as teacher and manager. He is dedicated to his craft and he enjoys the friendly admiration of his people.
In the international scene he also took part in many films. He helped in creating the African Actors Association and served as its chairman. He has come to become the property of the nation. He is man of art, a man of love, a man of hope, and man of compassion. He is a kindred spirit and sympathetic soul.
Debebe loathes quarrel, rivalries, hatred, fisticuffs, and pain. For me a terrorist is messenger of death. I don’t think that Debebe would involve himself in such acts that he despises and scorns.