By Alemayehu G. mariam
As the self-appointed Ethiopian diaspora spokesperson, I thank Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, President Lemma Megerssa, Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh Gegebeyehu and the entire Team Abiy Ahmed-ETHIOPIA delegation for travelling thousands of miles to be with us in America.
It has been said, “Distance means so little when someone means so much.”
Y’all came to see us because we Diaspora Ethiopians in America meant so much to you; and admit it, you just love us just like we love you!
We know it was not easy for you to pick up and come all way just to be with us.
We heard your critics griping, “You are travelling too much.” Blah, blah…
We heard them whining, “You are violating diplomatic protocol. You must do a state visit first.” Blah, blah…
We know how historic and unprecedented it is for a leader of a country to subordinate an official state visit to an unofficial visit of its exiled citizens.
Never in the history of world diplomacy has such a thing ever occurred.
In the long journey you took to be with us, I have seen with my own eyes a few things the cheering throngs did not see.
I imagine many people who watch your videos on social media think of you as men of steel, iron men.
But in the few hours I was with you, I have seen how dog-tired and worn out you were from the strain and stress of all the travelling, speaking and sleepless nights (What sleep? What night?).
I have seen you driven to total exhaustion without even enough time to grab a bite.
I have seen you preparing nonstop for one event or another.
But I did not see you for one moment complaining about the pressure and excessive demands made upon you.
What I saw was young men so selfless and dedicated to their country that they became a mirror to me and those like me.
I hate to admit it but what I saw in the mirror were floating images of selfishness, indifference and arrogance.
I had great respect for all of you when I “knew” you on YouTube.
But seeing you in person and watching you, my respect multiplied by leaps and bounds.
You have done the impossible.
Every day you prove Mandela’s maxim, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
My greatest dream was to see Ethiopia’s young people taking charge of their country’s destiny. That is what I have been preaching for the last 13 years nonstop.
Even as I toiled day and night, deep down in my heart I felt it was an impossible dream.
I shuddered every time I thought of the “END”. Will it all end in a bang or a whimper? Or in one large embrace?
I must confess. For the longest time, I believed Ethiopia must be a cursed nation.
Why shouldn’t I believe that?
For decades, Ethiopia became the poster country for famine, war, corruption and human rights violations.
At one time I was in so much despair, I wished Ethiopia was Ghana.
In 2009, in the depth of despair, I wrote a commentary, “What is it the Ghanaians got, We ain’t got?”
It was my way of telling the world, I wish I was Ghanaian.
Ghana and Ethiopia shared so many similarities yet they are so different. They are Africa’s poster country for democracy and freedom. Ethiopia was known as a poster country for famine, panhandling, ethnic division and civil strife.
Truth be told, I envied the Ghanaians so much. Not because they have a “perfect” democracy or are unaffected corruption and the rest of it, but because they got on the right track. They understood that only the people have the power to choose their government.
I am most jealous of Article 55 (4) of their Constitution which prohibits tribal or ethnic-based political parties: “Every political party shall have a national character, and membership shall not be based on ethnic, religious, regional or other sectional divisions.”
I dream every day that Ethiopia will one day have the language of Ghana’s Article 55(4) in its Constitution.
At the beginning of the 2015 New Year, I was in so much despair, I wrote a commentary and listed a couple dozen impossible dreams, my dreams forever deferred, I have for Ethiopia.
These were dreams of Ethiopia at peace, a nation united by its history and suffering of its people, brotherhood and sisterhood, unity in our humanity instead of our ethnicity, a creed, “I am my brother’s, my sister’s keeper”, the day human rights will extinguish government wrongs in Ethiopia and on and on.
But as the protests picked up and the people became ever so defiant of the regime, Langston Hughes’ poetically phrased questions began to gnaw my mind:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore– / And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
It almost exploded.
In the nick of time, Abiy Ahmed snipped the detonating cord and stopped it!
But like Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha, I never stopped chasing the impossible dreams believing always that I will reach “the unreachable star/And I’ll always dream/ The impossible dream/Yes, and I’ll reach/The unreachable star.”
The unreachable star of Ethiopiawinet, unity in our Ethiohumanity, freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law…
As I sat in the room with you all in Los Angeles, watching you all in awe and respect, I roiled in mixed emotions.
I saw you doing all of the heavy lifting as the rest of us stood on the side clapping and cheering.
It is so unfair to see so many of us in America living in the lap of luxury and all we can do is cheer you on.
It is so sad that so many of us stand idly by watching you do all the heavy lifting.
The only heavy lifting we do is carrying the acronyms after our names: Ph.D., M.D. J.D. M.A., etc. etc.
I feel so ashamed!
Everyone thinks you have all the solutions.
Your critics tell you what you are doing wrong and what you have not done or should do. Your supporters wish you well and pray for you.
As we sat in the room in Los Angeles, all I could do was repeat lines from Robert Frost to comfort myself (not you):
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But they [I] have promises to keep,
And miles to go before they [I] sleep,
And miles to go before they [I] sleep.
Good God Almighty, y’all have so many miles to go on the roads Nelson Mandela called “Goodness” and “Forgiveness”.
Mandela said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
How many great and small hills you must climb on the roads of Goodness and Forgiveness to get to that City Upon a Hill called Ethiopia?!
Fear not! You are not alone walking. We, the people, are there with you.
I hope the deep love, respect and appreciation you saw in diaspora Ethiopians in America will be the wind under your wings as you travel the endless miles on the roads of Goodness and Forgiveness and on your back as you chug along your Love Train.
You showed us all deep love, respect and appreciation as you crisscrossed America to talk and visit with us.
I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say we magnetized you with our love, energized you with our respect and electrified you with our appreciation.
You said publicly that you were not surprised by the reception in LA because as the entertainment capital of the world, it is expected of us to put on a great show.
With all due respect to Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, we in LA showered y’all with more love than you can handle. That’s just how we roll in L.A. so you know what to expect the next time you roll into town.
When you speak of your visit in LA, just remember the tens of thousands who were cheering you at the Galen Center and shedding tears of joy.
Just remember all of us who smiled as we struggled to hold back our tears.
That’s how we show our love, L.A. style.
For 27 years, the souls of diaspora Ethiopians in America were on ice.
In three days, you came and set our souls on fire.
That is why we kept on shouting, “Abiy! Abiy! We’re fired up and ready to go.”
I don’t want to sound like I am bragging.
And I hate to say, “I told you so, PM Abiy Ahmed!”
When I wrote you an open letter on June 3, 2018 on behalf of diaspora Ethiopians in the U.S. asking you to “please, please be our guest”, I promised:
If you come to the U.S., I have no doubts you would victoriously declare, “I came; I saw; and I conquered the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans in America.
Well, PM Abiy! Did you not come, see and conquer the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans in America?
What else did I say in that letter?
If you come, you will steal the show. Straight up! No question about it! You would bring down the house down and raise the roof. You would upstage the stage. You will be treated like a rock star by the younger generation of Ethiopians.
Well, the Minneapols-St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote, “10,000 give Ethiopian prime minister a rock-star greeting at Target Center”.
I told you so!
In the same letter, I also told you:
Let me assure you that the legions of your supporters in the U.S. of A are ready for you. We can’t wait to have you in our midst and hear you make the case for national reconciliation, national unity and how we can build the Beloved Ethiopian Community. We can’t wait to tell you how ready, willing and able we are to respond to your call for national salvation from decades of misrule and bad governance.
Did you not find us ready, willing and able to respond to your call for national salvation from decades of misrule and bad governance?
“Abiy! Abiy! We’re fired up and ready to go.”
Did I not predict in that letter that if you came you will show us how to talk the walk?
Some of us said you were just talking the talk of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy and did not mean any of it. Now, you put your mouth where your feet are and asked to be invited to show us how you walk the talk of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy.
I am proud beyond words can express that you walked the talk of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy right in our midst.
But I was also watching them and you.
Mandela said, “There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.”
I was watching those nabobs of negativism trying to drag you down into the sewer of ethnic politics, take you back to the bad old days of hatred, distrust and suspicion.
I saw some of them flailing their hands in the air as their lips dripped with the words of division, sectarianism and chauvinism.
I saw some of them who have drowned in the sea of the failed politics of ethnic division trying to take you down with them.
But to no avail. I am so proud you stood your ground. Just like in the Tom Petty song.
Well, I won’t back down (from my message of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy)
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down (from my message of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy)
No, I’ll stand my ground (for reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy)
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down (into hate, sectarianism and civil strife)
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down
Now, everyone knows who you are.
Abiy Ahmed is a man of action. You are a man of few words. When you talk, you say what you mean and mean what you say. When Abiy Ahmed talks, everybody listens.
Abiy Ahmed’s words heal the oppressed and broken-hearted.
Those who doubt the power of words should just listen to Abiy Ahmed. Every word that comes out of his mouth is inspired, filled with love and wisdom and laced with razor-sharp logic.
I feel sorry for the pitiful trash-talkers who trade in hate, division and strife. They think they can trap PM Abiy with clever questions.
But PM Abiy’s responses cut with surgical precision. The hate-mongers stab themselves in the heart with their own hate-motivated questions.
It is simply amazing how PM Abiy takes their negative energy and transforms it into positive energy.
I have lived the past 13 years of my life guided by Mandela’s maxim, “There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return.”
No one will know the true meaning of Mandela’s maxim unless they have lived it. I thought I had it made living out Mandela’s maxim.
PM Abiy! You paid me the highest respect and I was humbled beyond words can express when you called me “a gift to Ethiopia”. I was speechless!
There is no greater honor I can possibly get in my life than to be called a gift to Ethiopia by some who is truly, beyond doubt or question, a GIFT OF GOD TO ETHIOPIA.
To be called a “gift to Ethiopia” by someone I love, admire and respect unconditionally is something I never expected and certainly do not deserve.
Thank you for the great honor. May God return the greatest honor to you!
In barely four months you have taught us and shown us in practice the virtues of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, humility, courage, honor, truthfulness, sincerity, compassion and humor.
You have shown us there is a different way, a better way of living our lives in love, freedom, equality and justice.
Mandela said, “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”
When you came to America, you made us all winners.
All of us who dreamed of an Ethiopia free from tyranny and oppression are the winners today.
All of us who dreamed of an Ethiopia where human rights corrects government wrongs are winners today.
All of us who dreamed of an Ethiopia where the rule of law reigns supreme, the government fears the people and justice flows like a mighty stream are all winners today.
You made us all winners. There are no losers.
The not-so-secret winning formula is love, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. Anyone who uses this formula is a winner!
All I can say on behalf of all diaspora Ethiopians of good will and good faith in America is, “Thank you PM Abiy and Team Abiy-Ethiopia!” for coming to be with us.
You have honored us with your presence and we shall honor you by supporting you to the sweet or bitter end.
A musical idol from my youth, Jimi Hendrix, once said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”
Today, PM Abiy, the power of love has overcome the love of power in Ethiopia. We shall know peace.
Thank you for handing each one of us the power of love to conquer the world.
For 13 years, I have been the self-appointed speaker of truth to power.
On July 29, 2018, I sat at the Galen Center flying high as you spoke truth to us. How sweet it was! You have given us moments we will never forget in our lives.
Ovid, the ancient Roman poet, puzzled about the inseverable umbilical cord to one’s homeland. “Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.”
PM Abiy! For the first time in nearly one-half century, I tasted the sweetness of my native soil I had forgotten for so long when I hugged and embraced you, Lemma Megerssa and Team Abiy Ahmed-Ethiopia.
Many, many thanks for bringing Ethiopia to me in Los Angeles, PM Abiy, Lemma Megerssa and Team Abiy Ahmed-Ethiopia!
Vide te mox!