By Teodros Kiros
September 25, 2007
On a beautiful Saturday night, September 22, 2007, Kinjit and its delegates arrived at an Armenian Church in Cambridge, MA. At this defining moment, the delegates gave a landmark performance to the calm crowd. This was Kinjit’s rendezvous with victory, fated to announce itself in the next election, if the party disciplines itself and is guided by intelligent visionaries with democratic sensibilities.
The balanced Ms Birtukan Mideska, a model of reason and style; the polished statesman Dr. Hailu Araya; the brainy economist, Dr. Birhanu Nega; the consummate politician, Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw; and the shrewd strategist, Mr. Biruk Kebede; were there as founders of a potentially major party, thinking, strategizing, and resolving their internal differences to a very civilized Ethiopian crowd.
Mr. Samuel Belehu, the master of ceremony, did succeed in organizing a major event elegantly and smartly, considering the tension in the room.
Consistent with her loving personality, Ms. Birtukan read a public letter to Engineer Hailu Shawel, the official chairman of the party, who was conspicuously absent from the Boston event as a function of a widely rumored split of Kinjit into the so called Berhanu/Birtukan and Hailu faction. She graciously invited the chairman to lead the party and to return to the table of reconciliation and dialogue. She addressed him affectionately as Gashe, the highest honor given to an Ethiopian elder. She stressed again and again that she admires and respects him, and wants him to lead the emerging party, the party of tolerance, the party of dialogue without domination. Her public letter was a model of love with dignity, of admiration of a job well done, of a legacy of service and sacrifice for an ideal, attributes that she so ably recognized in Engineer Hailu Shawel work for Kinjit. The crowd in return heralded her name, and sung her praises, and she gratefully responded with a generous heart and an inviting smile.
She brought the crowd to its feet with her contagious affection and her human goodness. The letter visibly calmed the crowd, and diffused the tension, and warmed the hearts and smiles of the would be detractors in the crowd.
The major speech of the night was “Development and Freedom.” Dr. Hailu Araya delivered that speech coolly and systematically to a very serious crowd. Following Amrtya Sen, an internationally acclaimed noble Laureate, Dr. Araya convincingly argued that true development must be grounded on freedom and the human self cannot produce its material necessities (food, shelter and clothing) under the condition of non-freedom. He noted that freedom is to development as love is to a functional relationship. Where there is coercion, there is no development. You cannot fool people by handing them condominiums and other commodities to exact their obligations to government. A lasting development must be founded on freedom — freedom of thought, of speech and assembly. Given these freedoms, he argued, the creativeness and energies of the people will flow and propel the engine of development. For him, Kinjit aspires to be the party of freedom, the party that will devote itself to the preservation of the dignity of the Ethiopian person. He credited the existing regime forsaking to spread this freedom, but not adequately. His party will translate some of the ideals of the existing regimes into practicable ideas.
Freedom, for the mighty doctor, is the pillar of the open society that his party seeks to give those Ethiopians who will choose Kinjit as their new party.
Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw’s carefully crafted speech thanked the crowd for their relentless support of the party. He wisely addressed the sensitive topic of the non-attendance of Engineer Hailu Shawel as an act of a misunderstanding and a matter of different manners of work. He also expressed his gratitude to the Ethiopians who voted for the party in the recent elections, a point that he underscored, when he briefly joined the guests at a dinner table and he sat next to two highly respected Ethiopian personalities in Boston, Mr. Getachew Selassie and Lt. Col. Shemeles Gelaye and his wife, Fesesework Cheirent while effusively socializing with them,
He said, “The kindness of our supporters far exceeded the sacrifices that we tried to make. Our supporters were too kind to us.”
His interactive abilities with the guests was a symbol of the type of collective leadership guided by respect for the masses that the party wishes to give the Ethiopian people when it comes to power. This particular leader was open, humble and unafraid to speak his mind.
The voices of Dr. Berhanu Nega and Mr. Brook Kebede emerge in response to important questions on tolerance and the prospects of a fair and free election in the next round of Ethiopian politics.
While reflecting on the theme of tolerance, a major topic in Dr. Berhanu Nega’s recent book (The Dawn of Freedom) written from prison, he joined forces with Dr. Hailu Araya’s project, and presented tolerance as the second foundation of an open society. He impressively argued that tolerance is the pivot to the preservation of an open society, and that the mental development of the human being cannot occur, if the individual’s freedom to speak, to think, and therefore to grow, is seriously curtailed. For Dr. Nega, the dignity of the human person requires the necessary and sufficient condition of the tolerance of opinions, views, and needs of the individual person. A major feature of tolerance is practicing of resolution of internal differences through dialogue and debates and not through guns. A repeated practice of these virtues will eventually produce the corresponding moral/ political democratic virtues. An open society must procure toleration with freedom as the foundation of an ideal democratic regime.
Ms. Birtukan’s public letter was an example of an appeal to the chair to return to the table of tolerance where differences can be resolved through reasoned dialogue.
Mr. Brook Kebede’s strategic abilities were evident in his carefully thought out counsel to members of his party. He teaches that building a party is hard work and that the ultimate forces are the people and not the leaders, and that the mobilization of the people for the success of the party is the key. For Mr. Kebede, important political virtues such as the loyalty of the followers can be secured only if the people actively participate in shaping their destiny.
Before the night ended at 12:30 AM, all the delegates agreed that the next election can take place freely and fairly only and only if Kinjit, as the emerging party, organizes itself effectively as the party of the people, not a party above the people. Expanding its base, and hence a function of its fundraising plans, must be given a top priority.
Ms. Birtukan, the accomplished lawyer, summed up the event by synthesizing the themes of the delegates, and stressing that a peaceful strategy of winning the next election is the singular purpose of Kinjit, the major Ethiopian party of the future.
The festive night graced itself when the gifted poet, Ms. Deberitu Negash, who is affectionately called Debere, hailed the gorgeous Ms. Birtukan. Debere’s finest words of adulation were when she acknowledged how Ms. Birtukan managed to sustain herself behind the bars of the prison with such poise and dignity. “We are committed to you, our heroine — and we shall never leave you,”
The poet heralded Ms. Birtukan name and the crowd joined the poet and sung the queen’s praises, and thus ended a night that will go in the annals of modern Ethiopian history as one great democratic party of hearts.
Dr. Teodros Kiros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org