(By Yilma Bekele)
I am sure we are all familiar with what is known as the ‘melting pot’ concept when it comes to describing how America functions. The term is a metaphor ‘for a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous, the different elements “melting together” into a harmonious whole with one common culture.
The concept was popularized in the 1900 with the influx of immigrants from all over. It was challenged in 1970’s with some questioning the idea of total meld and wanted to preserve cultural differences as valuable part of a civil society and proposed an alternative metaphor the ‘mosaic or salad bowl’ concept. This term has come to dominate the Canadian experience. It proposes the mix of ethnic groups, languages and cultures that can harmoniously co-exist. It advocates multiculturalism.
Both approaches have managed to build a robust and prosperous society. Over the weekend I had a medical issue and went to the hospital. I, the patient is an immigrant from Ethiopia. My admitting nurse was another Ethiopian. The nurse that took my vitals was from Nigeria. The person who took my x-ray was from Eritrea. My emergency room doctor was a white American. The individual who took me thru the discharge process was a female Hispanic immigrant. The hospital functioned like a well-oiled machine.
I was impressed. It made me see how the US has managed to become such a big powerhouse. There is plenty that needs to change but it is obvious the system is based on a solid ground of willingness to accommodate change while not losing a common vision of one country one people.
It did not take me long to come back to ground. My homeland came to jar me back to reality. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ in southern part of my country was a reminder that all is not well on the home front. The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a loaded term. I am not invoking it lightly. But it to so aptly describes the plight of our citizens that happen to be ‘Amhara’ and their current tribulations. The Benji Maji Zone Administration has seen it fit to expropriate their land and property and drive them out of their homes. Go back to your Kilil they said. Today they are refugees in their own country. The actual term is ‘internally displaced.’
“Internally displaced” is a strange concept to grasp. How could you be a refugee in your own land? In an emerging Democracy like Ethiopia anything is possible. The government led by TPLF (Tigrai Peoples Liberation Movement) is the Party in charge. When they took power they were not into the concept a ‘melting pot’ nor did they appreciate the idea of a ‘salad bowl.’ Our ḥizbāwī weyānē ḥārinet tigrāy ሕዝባዊ ወያኔ ሓርነት ትግራይ leaders were enamored by the concept of ‘Apartheid’. Building enclaves was their brilliant solution. The plight of the Amhara’s is Apartheid in practice. That is what Meles Zenawi is constructing in Ethiopia. Separate disjointed entities at war with each other while his single ethnic based party fans the hate flame.
Do you think I am being an alarmist? Do you think I am falling into the trap of ethnic identification? I do not think so. If people are forced to flee due to their ethnicity be it in Benji Maji, Gambella, Sarajevo or Kigali you have to call it what it is ‘ethnic cleansing.’ The Serbian Military’s attempt to drive Moslems out of Sarajevo was defined as practicing ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Hutus targeted Tutsis and the blood bath was judged as an ugly attempt at ‘ethnic cleansing.’ During the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea both countries carried out limited form of ‘ethnic cleansing’. May I remind you some of us showed total indifference while a few cheered. Ethnic cleansing is an International crime. It is crime against humanity. What has happened to the Amhara’s of Benji Maji Zone is ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Their only crime is being an Amhara and finding them selves in the wrong Apartheid designated ‘Home Land”.
This abhorrent crime is committed by the TPLF party, which is led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. They set such system in place. They designed it. Some are claiming the TPLF party has gone rouge and become the party of one family. I beg to differ. The TPLF was born a monster, grew up to be a monster and will die as a monster. It has never ever done anything that could be seen as a positive contribution to the people of Tigrai in particular and the people of Ethiopia in general.
Kilil is not a new idea. It was copied from the book of the Nationalist Party of South Africa. The White people’s party. Their creation of the ‘Apartheid’ system set up ten Bantustans or homeland for Black people. It kept the Blacks apart. It made them strangers to each other. There was no Black South African but an ethnic based homeland citizen. Leaders like Chief Buthelezi of the great nation of Kwa Zulu were reduced to serving the White masters at the expense of their people. Exile some, corrupt a few and bully the rest was the hallmark of Apartheid. Kilil is the son of Apartheid. In today’s Ethiopia Kilil defines who you are and that of being an Ethiopian is secondary. Benji Maji is the outcome of Kilil at work. You area a citizen of your Kilil not your Country.
TPLF’s system is working like a charm. The folks displaced from Benji Maji are living proof. The cultivation of hate has made us mistrust each other. The insistence on separate Kilil’s has caused us plenty of civil strife. No place is immune from this sickness. Even places of higher learning such as the University and Kilil based Colleges are the hot bed of ‘ethnic’ clashes. I am writing about it. It has become our everyday experience. We are in the process of becoming strangers to each other. The meaning of being an Ethiopian is being deflated, downsized, given negative connotations and made something to hide out of shame.
Why some people in leadership do that should be left to psychologists, social scientists and historians to explain. Our problem is here and now. We are all affected by this devaluation of a beautiful proud country. We are not the first to be under this type of calamity. Look Iraq was once a proud nation. Today Iraqis avoid Iraq. Syria is entering that zone of madness on a national scale. Ethnic strife is the common thread between the two. Kilil is the breeding ground for ‘ethnic strife’. The TPLF party is the fertilizer.
Are you inoculated against this virus? What do you think when you hear of Benji Maji? Upset? Depressed? Confused? Hope less? You see the current leaders of Ethiopia are free to do what they want. The only way to stop them is by showing them there are consequences to their action. There is a price to pay for bad deeds. The people organized around Timret are building an all-inclusive Front as a solid foundation for our future Ethiopia. ESAT has managed to be our voice. Andenet is still operating under dire circumstances. All these groups and organizations are helping the people of Benji Maji by doing their share so there will be no more Benji Maji’s. Change will not happen with out involvement. We can work together as one to create a “melting Pot’ or a ‘Salad Bowl’ or continue on building Apartheid. It is up to you. Show me rather than tell me.