Who Embarrassingly Failed? Ato Hailemariam Desalegn or Members of Academia?

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne

By T.Goshu

I would like to make clear that the very intention of this piece of writing is not simply to express my impression about who said what and how the meeting ended terribly worthless. Neither am I simply intended to express my disappointment with how Ato Hailemariam presented himself, as it would be so foolish for me to expect something desirably different from a situation where there have never been and there are no rationally and legitimately operating political personalities and authorities. My intention is rather to reflect my points of view about how the failure of Ethiopian intellectuals and citizens with various qualification standards of education keeps going from bad to worse. What is the very essence of education if it is not an instrument to diagnose the very causes of the ills of a society and to systematically and wisely find appropriate and effective means of attacking that very cause of illness? Without going to theoretical analysis and discussions, the very ills of our society is the total absence of fundamental human liberty, justice, rule of law, moral obligation , equal opportunity, the right to work and put at least food to eat on the table. The silence or the horrifying loss of courage of educated sons and daughters of Ethiopia in the face of an extremely dire situation is very difficult to either explain or comprehend.

What is now critically important is to genuinely and productively admit the very painful failure to do a self-searching work with no clumsy self-excuse, to come up with strategies and programs that should pave the way for moving forward. It must be seriously underscored here that this way of self-searching, self-correcting and forward-looking move will not be an easy task especially in when it comes to our continent (Africa) in general and in our country in particular.

“We should not forget the Opportunism, cowardice and unprincipled role of a section of the so-called intelligentsia in leading us into present quandary…..” This statement of a Sierra Leonean residing in Canada is quoted by Professor George B. Ayittey in his book, Africa Betrayed (1992) clearly shows how the real meaning and purpose of intellectualism is badly compromised in Africa, and of course in our country of which we claim proud of playing remarkably exemplary role in the fight against fascism and colonialism .

Needless to say, this statement of strong critique is not longing for a society or section of a society that is immune from undesirable behaviors (opportunism, cowardice, not being principled). What it is about is that a society or a section of society that is dominantly characterized by those harmful behaviors is highly vulnerable to its own made quagmire.

Genuinely concerned fellow Ethiopian, this painful but realistic testimony about the role of intellectuals in Africa was twenty four years ago when the incumbent ruling elites of TPLF/EPRDF forcibly unseated the military junta from its Arat kilo throne and ascended to it with a very stupidity of convincing themselves that there was no and there wouldn’t be any force that would dare to force them descend. Needless to say, it is from this throne that all evil-driven political agenda and all means of repressive state machineries have been set up and put in a standby mode to ruthlessly attack any individual or group or community that has been considered and perceived as a challenge of the “new generation of revolutionary democracy”, a generation that “made mountains shake.”

It did not take long time for the “new breed of leadership” led by the late Ato Meles Zenawi who self-evidently was highly cynical, extremely hypocrite and chronically conspirator to go after well-qualified and experienced university teaching staff members. The very devastating, but not surprising challenge to higher education institutions became a reality when Addis Ababa University lost its forty well-qualified and experienced academicians as the result of the direct intervention of the “revolutionary democracy.” That was the beginning of politically motivated action that subsequently has made all levels of academic institutions and centers victims of a dirty if not deadly political game. I do not know what other dangerous political games could be the killing machines of a generation than turning those institutions into centers of horrifying political theatres.

It is gravely painful to the people of Ethiopia who lost phenomenally brilliant and courageous generation in the 1970s not to be fortunate enough to see a generation of courage and patriotism as far as a very critical question of how to make the dreams for genuine freedom, justice, and peace and prosperity realities is concerned. I ma sorry to say but I have to say that that was what I observed from the latest meeting with agenda items of “the state of the nation and national consensuses.”

Here is Thomas Swell, the author of a book, Intellectuals and Society (2009) has to say about the very role of intellectuals as an essential factor to articulately explain why ‘the world we see around differs from the world we would like to see’ which is essentially important to deal with the real world we live in.

“…, oppression, poverty, injustice and war are products of existing institutions- problems whose solutions require changing those institutions, which in turn require changing the ideas behind those institutions. In short, the ills of society are seen ultimately an intellectual and moral problem, for which intellectuals are especially equipped to provide answers, by virtue of their greater knowledge and insight, as well as their not having vested economic interests to bias them in favor of the existing order and still to the voice of conscience.”

Genuinely concerned fellow Ethiopians, was and is this not what has terribly been missing for the last two and half decades and still missing from the struggle for making our country a better place to live ? If we are not courageous enough to admit this very unfortunate reality we live with and take all necessary and appropriate actions, it would be so hard to understand what else can make us to be so.

The stupidly arrogant ruling elites of TPLF/EPRDF could not get relief until the teaching staff members of higher education either become parts of the dirty political game or remain silent about any direct and damaging political intrusion in the very affairs of any level of academic institution. The recent cases of Dr. Merera Gudina and Dr. Dagnachew Asefa are typical examples. Let it be clear here that when I highlight the cases of the forties and these two highly qualified and experienced professionals, I am not simply trying to show how they personally have become victims of the ignorantly arrogant and terribly ruthless ethno-centric ruling elites. What I am trying to say is that the moment we become victims of the very idiotic mentality of “I do not care or I can do nothing as long as the ruling elites do not deny my daily bread” is responsible for being part of the killing of a generation that is looking forward to succeeding in life through the power of independent thinking, knowledge and skill. Who else should be at the forefront of the struggle to reverse this self-induced tragic situation if it is not those sons and daughters of Ethiopia who are fortunate enough to get the opportunity to be equipped with a necessary means (education) through which their intellects could be transformed into material resources of freedom, justice, unity within diversity, innovative ideas and findings, development, shared prosperity, self-motivated and self – nurtured and freely –chosen social cohesion?

Sadly enough, because of either opportunism, or cowardice, or unprincipled behavior or the combination of the three, we have given TPLF/EPRDF a chance to unleash its attack against not only scholars and educators but also citizens who were and are perceived as threats of “revolutionary democracy.” The consequences of the well-orchestrated political intervention in the very affairs of academic institutions were and are gravely serious. The very existence of academic freedom which is essentially unthinkable without independent and critical thinking has been ruthlessly attacked. The basic rights to reject what is wrong and to fight for what is right have been terribly crashed. Fundamental human Liberties: freedom of speech, expression, worship (religion), association, assembly and to associate oneself with any opposition political organization that strives for a democratic and peaceful change has been grossly violated. Put simply, all sections of the society and all aspects of people’s lives have been put under the command and control of a “new leadership of revolutionary democracy” that has no room for dissenting views and movements. It is in the midst of all these and so many horrifying situations that those intellectuals who have been “invited” to this very latest meeting with a very big and critical agenda items (where we are now and how to bring about national consensus) miserably failed to show what they are for and who they are. They simply talked about things that have been and are the day-to-day occurrences that are becoming difficult to call them even as news in the real meaning of the term.

This meeting of Ato Hailemariam with academicians is a testimony of history repeats itself even in a much uglier manner. It is part and parcel of the legacy of the late Ato Meles Zenawi who had used similar events at which intellectuals and academicians had been terribly undermined to the extent of losing the courage to defend who they were and what they were for let alone defending the academic community they belong to (community of academic institutions).

Is it not painfully disgraceful to watch those who are at the very top positon of educating and shaping this young generation being lectured by a prime minister who has neither the capacity nor the courage nor real authority other than being a mere speaking tool of his political mentor (TPLF’s inner circle)? Why and how the people of Ethiopia are not still fortunate enough to witness those who claim to be well-educated to be courageous enough to speak clearly and loudly about the general crisis the country is facing? Is it opportunism (living without any reliable principle of integrity as long as the very self-centered interest is met? “Is it excessive cowardice? Is it lack of principle on which where one stands firm? Or is it because the majority of “participants” were and are in one way or another associated with “the great legacy of the late great leader?” I think it seems the combination of all, unfortunately.

As the “new brilliant ruling elites” realized that academic institutions are places where students and other various staff members converge with knowledges and experiences of their home towns and villages and develop a real sense of knowing each other as Ethiopians, they systematically planted the seed of mistrust, hatred, disunity and dishonesty that unfortunately went to the extent of organizing students not based on student bodies for student affairs but based on this or that ethnic-background. Put simply, a substantial increase in the construction of academic institutions (buildings) could not produce human resource that is skilled and capable of being innovative (original way of thinking and creativity) as well as the courage to rationally and justifiably fight for what is right but reject what is wrong.

Unfortunately enough, those intellectuals and educators horribly failed to courageously stand firm in unison to protect their own inalienable rights let alone defending the academic freedom of academic institutions in general. Ato Hailemariam, an agent of “carrying through the great legacy” lectured those “participants” that higher education institutions themselves are victims of ethnic and other divisions. Needless to say, this was a serious insult to the very intelligence of any ordinary citizen let alone to those academicians who have been seating and listening to the very outrageously idiotic political propaganda.

That is why it is quite fair to say that it was deeply embarrassing for them not to strike back with analytically critical arguments of who deliberately created policies, strategies, maneuvers and programs that have created fertile ground for the dangerous divisions he was talking about. I do not know what reason can be given for this kind of failure if it is not opportunism, or excessive cowardice, or severe lack of principle as educated section of the Ethiopian society.

To be more specific and clear, I am talking about the March 15, 2016 meeting held by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn with academicians from higher education institutions on the theme “Ethiopia’s Current Affairs and National Consensuses”. This was a very big and truly desirable agenda to deal with. A couple of days before the event took place, I came across the news (announcement) by the Ethiopian Reporter (Amharic version) saying, “Prime Minister Hailemariam Desallegn Holds a Meeting with Intellectuals.”

Reasonably and frankly speaking, I had no illusion that Ato Halilemariam would have either the capacity or the courage to come up with somehow meaningful way of thinking or would be taking the “participants’ ” ideas and views into account in such that the people of Ethiopia in general and the community of academia in particular would be able to witness a grain of hope that the ruling elites of TPLF/EPRDF might have certain degree of changing their hearts and minds. This view of mine was not and is not because either I am pessimistic or a person who blindly hate the inner players of the ethnic-based tyrannical regime personally. It is a matter of inexcusably and firmly standing against the political crime being committed by an ethno-centric tyranny.

I intentionally did follow up who said what at the meeting (though I couldn’t say in its full sense); I tried to go through different media outlets and social media; I watched round table discussions (ESAT with Ato Fekade Shewakena, Dr. Abrahm and Ato Ermias Legese ); and I came across comments from individuals.

I sincerely appreciate ESAT for making relentless and resilient effort that is aimed at creating a well-informed public. Despite the limitations of resources, I want to believe that the news, news analysis, interviews, round table discussions, and all other pragmas and shows are inspiringly encouraging. And making a timely and critically important issues and matters such as the one I am trying to express in this comment the focus of public discussion and engagement is genuinely commendable.

The discussion EAST held with Ato Fekade Shewakena and Dr. Abraham was very insightful. I found their concluding remarks rationally and realistically true. Yes, the meeting was not only an event at which the same dirty political drama has been played but also a very outrageous insult to those “invited” in particular and to all intellectuals in general.

Ato Ermias Legese made the discussion on this very phony but dangerous political drama more interesting when he said that a) there was no doubt that who is who and who is for what had been seriously considered when the invitation was extended b) even those participants who may claim no association or affiliation either directly or otherwise with TPLF/EPRDF could not be courageous enough to present themselves as citizens who could not allow their intellectuality and intelligence be undermined and insulted. What a very straight-forward and powerfully realistic observation! I want to express my observation that although I do not know Ato Ermias personally, based on very close and serious attention to what he has done after his defection from the tyrannical regime , I want, in my view to say that he is the first one who truly regretted for being part of the ethno-centric tyranny and is genuinely and brilliantly doing his best for the success of the struggle for the realization of genuine freedom, justice, rule of law, human dignity , socio-economic well-being , and equal opportunity. I hope there would be others who may follow his remarkable courage.

Let me say the following with regard to the Reporter of Amare Aregawi. As expected, Reporter of Amare Aregawi came up with a report that sounds like “the Prime Minister had a great time with intellectuals”. I do not think “the great reportage” from the Ethiopian Reporter on the success of the meeting is worth mentioning leave alone having a serious counter-argument. One thing I could observe from this cynically and shrewdly pro-TPLF/EPRDF media organization was the fact that Ato Hailemariam has used the very lion share of the event (75%+) to transmit the message that has been down loaded from the very inner circle of TPLF to his very self-disgraceful power house of thinking (brain and mind). I carefully and repeatedly watched what he had to say about some big and complex issues of renaissance, transformation, terrorism, corruption and rent seeking, the constitutional guarantee for nations and nationalities, national consensus, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately enough, the way he tried to deal with these big and critical arears of issues was typically characterized by doing the same , if not the worst political propaganda of the last quarter of a century except his effort to look unsuccessfully like and sound his late political mentor , Ato Mels Zenawi.

By the way, it is quite an open secret that the Reporter of Amare Aregawi has always tried its best not to see TPLF’s fall apart and demise. Look at or read carefully how and why Amare Aregawi makes some issues of public concern big headlines. I do not think it is difficult to understand how he lays out those headlines and editorials in a very cynically deceiving way and a very shrewdly misleading fashion. I strongly believe that there is a need for those genuinely concerned Ethiopians (particularly those who are close to the profession of journalism) to educate the public not to be victims of those highly cynical cronies of the ethno-centric tyranny in the name of independent media. I am not suggesting that taking any action against this or that media which carries and promotes ideas that are not in line with public interest is desirable. What I am saying that uncritical (passive reading, idle watching, mere observation…) is one of the greatest enemies of original and independent way of thinking. It is when we are willing and able to see those opposite views of our society and deal with them in such a way that we can and should turn them into our mutual benefits that we can claim ourselves people of civility and shared prosperity. And this requires a real sense of credibility, honesty and integrity. That is what is terribly missing from those media personalities such as Amare Aregawi and Mimi Sibhatu, not to mention those media hosts in the diaspora who work hard to spread the poisonous political virus and devastating socio-economic agenda of TPLF/EPRDF in exchange of satisfying their widely voracious self-interests at the very expense of the innocent people of Ethiopia.

I once again strongly argue that those showed up at the meeting disgracefully failed as far as what the community they represent and the people they live with expect from them, an expectation that emanates from genuine belief that those who are fortunate enough to be equipped with the Knowledge and courage of not only solving problems under normal circumstances but also tackling unusually difficult issues and either natural or man-made crises.

I would strongly argue that it would be either foolish enough or self- deceiving for us to expect either a truly success story or certain level of difference in attitude and approach from Ato Hailemariam Dessalegn. This is mainly because: A) When he took the premiership with the blessing of the very inner circle of TPLF, he unequivocally told the Ethiopian people that carrying out the legacy of his late political mentor would be the unwavering mission. No more, no less. And he has not only kept this “sacred political and socio-economic legacy” going but sadly enough he continued to do so by using a much more ruthless means in dealing with the innocent people of Ethiopia who have done nothing wrong other than expressing their discontents, and demanding an appropriate and responsible behavior and action from the TPLF controlled government. B) given the very hard experience of a quarter of a century, what has continued after the land slide election victory (hundred percent) of May 2015, and what is happening at this moment in time in all parts of the country, more particularly in the Oromia region, in Gambella, northern Gondar, in Southern part of the country and so many other towns and villages; lecturing on national consensus and transformation was adding salt to injury to the people of Ethiopia. As a matter of fact, this has been the very characteristic of TPLF/EPRDF from its very inception. That is why I would say that arguing whether Ato HaileMariam has failed or not is not worthwhile. He belongs to a political circle that unfortunately is allergic to correcting what terribly went wrong and the courage to come up with what is good and right to the betterment of the well-being of the people.

Witnessing hundreds of members of academia suffering from a self-invited intellectual failure is not something to be described simply as failure, but it was a very painful embarrassment first to those “intellectuals” and of course to the people of Ethiopia too.

Their failure began when they went to the meeting hall without genuinely and seriously thinking about how the meeting should be conducted or proceed. Would it be really a forum at which all critically opposite views could be heard and taken into account? Would it be a meeting with a platform that could have a lot to do with the real and serious sense of national consensus that should include national reconciliation for the sake of the sake of well-being of the Ethiopian people? How the prime minister should be engaged if he would try to act as mere transmitter of the usual political propaganda of TPLF/EPRDF? What should I or we do if the prime minister would consider our presence as a bunch of poor students to be lectured about a subject that has nothing to do with the reality they know and they live in? Would being part of the meeting make a difference in moving the struggle for genuine freedom and justice forward or just a political phony as usual? What would we do if our voices of reason and concern fell on deaf ears and stupidly closed hearts and minds of the inner circle of TPLF/EPRDF? Should we do something about it in any way we can, or stupidly and disgracefully remain silent and wait if any miracle would happen and if we would be fortunate enough to be beneficiaries?

The way the meeting was announced looked somehow impressive when it was said that the purpose was to exchange ideas and recommendations each participant would be interested to deliver. It is fair to say that if that was credible, the assumption that should follow is that the contribution of each participant should be taken as critically valuable input in the process of not phony political game as usual, but in the process of working hard to bring about genuine national consensus and reconciliation. Given who said what and how much time he or she was given, I do not think it is unfair to say that those members of academia were victims of being considered as attendees of a stupidly orchestrated political propaganda episode. Who made them to be so? They themselves! They cannot justify their own intellectual delinquency by simply complaining about the consequences of challenging the Ato Hailemriam Desalegn rationally, legitimately and courageously. Needless to say, an intellectual personality without freedom of independent and original thinking, without freedom of dispensation of its innovative ideas, without the courage and the right to embrace what is right but to firmly stand against what is wrong, without the courage to systematically fight and defeat both perceived and actual fear is a failure worse than any other embarrassing failures. This is what I clearly but not surprisingly observed from the meeting of Ato Hailemariam with academicians of higher education institutions.

I wonder how those intellectuals could not have the courage to challenge the very proceeding (procedure) of a meeting that seventy and more percent of its time had to be consumed by talking the same if not the worst political propaganda of TPLF/EPRDF. It is painfully disgraceful for those “participants “to sit down and hear all kinds of nasty and extremely disingenuous political rhetoric the Ethiopian people are tired and sick of hearing for a quarter of a century.

If they could invalid or underplay this observation of mine, let them put how they challenged the outrageously cheap political propaganda of TPLF transmitted through Ato Hailemariam in black and white and let us know how they put forward their arguments and the influence they generated . But, I do not think that was and would be the case because the way the meeting was organized, conducted or handled both in terms of time allocation and substance does reflect otherwise.

When it comes to substance, we watched kind of better than keep silent (TPLF loves it) comments from a couple of “participants” including Dr. Bahiru Zewude, a renowned historian. Truly speaking, things were not different from the expression of concerns by any genuinely concerned ordinary Ethiopian. Let me mention one example, I listed watched them trying to express their views and concerns about one of the very sensitive and serious issues of the conflict between national (Ethiopian) identity and ethnic identity.

To my observation, they unfortunately failed to rationally and vigorously take their arguments of concern to the very root cause (TPLF/EPRDF) by posing straight-forward questions to Ato Hailemarim: Who is responsible for most of the socio-political illnesses of the society? Is it not TPLF/EPRDF that has planted and nurtured this notoriously dangerous political game? How it would possible to create a fertile ground for national consensus without seriously addressing the political space that is completely and tightly closed to any dissenting idea and movement? Who is responsible and accountable for a political madness that is creating a situation in different regions of the country that could end up with very dangerous consequences? What kind of national consensus the ruling party is talking about while what is happening in Oromia, Gambella, Amhara, Southern reginal administrations is not a testimony for creating fertile ground for consensus and reconciliation? The list of objectively challenging questions is quite long.

If you ask me what I do expect from well-educated Ethiopians, I would say it is nothing else but to courageously and substantially challenge any political behavior and action that has a lot to do with threatening not only the very basic rights of this generation but also the generation to come. To my understanding, intellectuality is not only a matter of passing through the highest academic institutions and receive certificates of qualification. I strongly believe that intellectuality in the real sense of the term is when our intellect (power house of thinking and reasoning) is being transformed into a power house of problem-solving. Put simply, the very essence of intellectuality is when one’s problem-solving knowledge, skill, capacity, and of course courage speaks louder than his or her certificate of qualification. And I would like to argue that at this very moment in time, there is no any other huge and serious problem that is desperately in need of this type of intellectuality than the situation in which the people of Ethiopia are languishing. How the people of Ethiopia who sacrifice what they have to see their children educated and living relatively better living standard are not fortunate enough to see their educated sons and daughters fighting for the freedom and justice they deserve? I am well aware that this comment of mine may not be comfortable to some fellow Ethiopians. I wish I could make it otherwise. But unless we want to be dishonestly okay with what we are observing from the majority of educated Ethiopians, there is no any other way to express the reality we are facing.

I was not surprised but disappointed when those intellectuals lost the courage rationally and realistically challenge an extremely nonsensical political rhetoric of Ato Hailemariam about very big and complex concepts such as renaissance and transformation. It is a common knowledge of history that renaissance or sometimes called rebirth was a concept that had been used to describe how Europe transformed itself from the deep crises of the fourteenth century, the Black Death being one of the horrible crises, to a dramatically new development in all aspects of societal life of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Renaissance was characterized by an incredible transformation in all aspects of society. It was and is a period of dramatic change in areas of political set ups, search for knowledge, literature and arts, architecture, geographical and astronomical discoveries, expansion of trade, growth of wealth. It was this period of renaissance that paved the way to the period of enlightenment of the eighteenth century and so on and the forth. It essentially requires the willingness and determination to undertake self-transformation (as individuals, as groups of various functions, as professionals, as leaders and of course as politicians who are to be in power).

Here is how Jan Phillips, describes what the prerequisite for a transformation is if it should be a real transformation in her book, The Art of Original Thinking; the Making of a Thought Leader (2006);

“Transformation originates in people who see a better way or a fairer world, people who reveal themselves, disclose their dreams and unfold their hopes in the presence of others. And this very unfolding, this revelation of raw, unharnessed desire, this deep longing to be a force for good in the world is what inspires others to feel their own longings, to remember their own purpose and act, perhaps for the first time, in accordance with their inner spirits.”

Fellow Ethiopians, read this carefully and with a real sense of concern. Have the people of Ethiopia been and are fortunate enough to experience the very fundamental characteristics of the origins of transformation?

It goes without saying that the existence of rule abiding, responsible, credible, participatory and effective institutions is indispensable for the prevalence of transformation/ renaissance. Are there institutions that are dedicated to the emergence, development and the free flow of ideas , views and all other necessary resources to bring about a transformation that has a lot do with changing the lives of the people ? The reality on the ground cannot answer this extreme critical question positively. This is because as Jan Phillips further argues that transformation in all levels social lives essentially needs conducive environment to reveal itself as a process that is aimed at transforming the very lives of the people. Here is what she further argues; “Transformation happens when our hearts break open, when we surrender and reach out. And it is this final act, this reaching out, this opening of our very soul to others, or the other that opens door to healing and change. In nature every seed must die as a seed in order to become the greater thing it was destined to. It is only when the seed cracks open that its real essence is nurtured, fed, and called into being.”

Now, the question once again is: Do we have a political leadership of which we can see somehow reflective of what transformation does mean let alone claiming dedication and success? The answer is much worse than simply saying no as it is sadly true that what we have is a bunch of ruling elites who are transforming their own lives and the lives of their parasitic cronies by exploiting the very precious natural resources of the country and at the very expense of the lives of the people. I heard one of the “intellectuals “opening his comment by saying that “the way the transformation has begun is good.” I really do not know how he understands and interprets what transformation really means?

To sum up, I am not stupidly saying that meeting with Ato Hailemariam was wrong and would be wrong. Absolutely not! What I am arguing is that it is not only wrong but also a terrible failure not to rationally, realistically and courageously challenge the same if not notoriously delusional political propaganda. Witnessing this kind of very unfortunate situation at this time of very miserable moment is truly disturbing. Yes, watching the majority of the section of intelligentsia losing the courage to argue against an incredible level of political madness that puts the country at a very worrisome cross-road and pushes the very survival of the people to an extremely dire situation (insecurity, politically motivated dehumanization, acute starvation…) while few of the members of this section put themselves at the very forefront of the struggle for freedom and justice makes our concern much more serious. Let me finally say that this comment of mine is not to paint the future with dark cloud cover. The point I wanted to reflect is that the culture of very frustrating silence or unacceptable level of mentality of avoidance of facing political challenges is self-defeating. And this becomes deeply painful when it comes from educated sons and daughters of Ethiopia. As hope is great, I am hopeful that things will change for the better. But let’s genuinely remind ourselves that our hope becomes feasible and fruitful only through tangible actions.