In mid April this year, a group of militants belonging to the Islamic State (IS) released a sickening video of pure brutality: the mass beheading and execution of 30 Ethiopian (and possibly Eritrean) citizens. Now, Ethiopia is mourning and no amount of comfort seems to surmount the sheer grief.
Without a doubt IS’s sadistic killing of these helpless migrants for mere reason of their religion is unmatchable for its cruelty; but a sober look at incidents elsewhere reveals this is not the first time a tragedy of this scale has shaken Ethiopia. Going by recent experiences alone, a few weeks ago Ethiopians have witnessed the heinous xenophobic attacks against African migrant workers, including three Ethiopians, who were viciously and senselessly murdered in South Africa; and the fate of hundreds of undocumented Ethiopians trapped in the ongoing civil war in Yemen remains unknown. Unverified reports tell of massacres there too.
In Oct-Nov 2013 Ethiopians have watched in horror and disbelief as hundreds of thousands of their sons and daughters, husbands and wives (and yes fathers and mothers too) were visibly dehumanized by Saudi Arabia’s security agents, including its police; they were then forcibly evicted back to their birth place. And in June 2012 a news headline that emerged from the southern African nation of Malawi shocked Ethiopians in and outside the country with the story of at least 45 Ethiopian migrants who have died and 72 others who were in critical condition from lack of clean air, hunger and dehydration inside a container they were crammed in.
These stories have only one thing in common: the tale of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians who are trapped by the vicious circle of choicelessness in their birth place and are willing to pay dearly for it. Alas, this is the bitter reality the government in Ethiopia doesn’t want to recognize or doesn’t want it to be recognized by others. Sadly though not only the government but also popular public opinions are failing to understand that it’s not the hopelessness as it is the choicelessness that is driving these young Ethiopians away from the land where the guns have been silenced 24 years ago.
Of permanent denial & permanent delusion
There are two mutually inclusive troubling trends that explain the chronic lack of plausible explanation on the true nature of the story of Ethiopia’s young people dying across oceans and wilderness.
The first is the government’s permanent denial that the country’s much talked about political stability and economic growth mantra is not only leaving those who have a certain level of education, are tech savvy, and probably the middle-class-in-wait generation behind, but also with few or no choices of their own say regarding the state-citizen relationship.
The ‘Ethiopia rising’ narrative that the state’s propaganda machine is keenly selling across the globe has no space, nor the patience, to accommodate and tolerate dissenting views; for Ethiopians this massive cocoon made from honey and milk that is called Ethiopia, and which the government is inexorably promoting to its western allies, who bankroll its survival, can’t be argued otherwise; nor can it be disputed. Using its unrestrained access to the media, among other ways, the government automatically rejects others’ views, especially the young peoples’ views which refuse to dance to its tune, as bigoted, nauseating, and as agitating the country’s constitution. As a result Ethiopia is now fairly at a point where no one can alternate the state’s choreographed definition of what individual liberty is, what development is, what democracy is and what should be the role of citizens and civil society organizations in nation building, among other things.
The second is the state of permanent delusion in which those select few individuals or groups who are privileged to opine about what millions others are deprived from. Although the thriving of these opinion makers owes its existence to the government’s utter control of the media and its subsequent denial of the existence of alternative voices in the country, they also avail their knowledge and expertise to reinforce the single narrative that the government wants everyone to abide by: this country is growing fast, anyone who disputes that is either complying with a foreign agenda or is bent on destabilizing the country.
They both share three things in common: first, theirs and only theirs explanation should define and re-define the state-citizen relationship; second, the government has addressed all the questions citizens of this country could ever ask for; and third, anyone who disputes the above two is an agitator, an anti everything good that this country ostensibly has.
This is no ‘get rich or die trying’
When the Libya tragedy hit the nation the state sponsored dominant narrative quickly shifted from comforting the nation to that of teaching them a lesson: it was wrong of these young people to leave their country of peace, economic development and freedom in the first place.
Victims of the ongoing horrific tragedy facing Ethiopian migrants in a third country, be it in a sea or a desert, are now blamed for their own ‘get rich or die trying’ attitude. For the government and its champions it is incomprehensible that these migrants spend as much as a US$ 3000 or more to pay a trafficker’s due only to die in the middle of nowhere; why risk their lives when they can make heaven out of it at home? The story of death and pain in the ocean and wilderness that sharply contradicts the ‘Ethiopia rising’ daily dose the government is systematically administering to the nation (and the world at large) is a mere nuisance; that the “Ethiopia rising” mantra is practically failing to create equal chances for all Ethiopians and pushing those outside the web of access to power to misery is a thing of the state’s enemies; and that these young Ethiopians who are risking their lives instead of dying with their prides intact at home are just victims of their own perception, of their own wrong attitude. Sadly, this is the story of thousands of Ethiopians.
It is time to stop looking for answers where there is none. If there was ever a chance for this country to confront with the dark side of its own history, now is the time. It should begin from admitting the elementary detail: when opportunity avails itself, young people with so much to live for don’t run away from it; they are the first ones to jump on it.
As it stands now there is a serious gap between what the government in Ethiopia thinks young people should need and should have and what they actually need and have. They are not angry agitators, they are hungry for a life better than their parents’ and are restless to get it; they don’t want to settle for less when they know they can try their chances for the better; they are not rebelling in a jungle with an AK47 at their disposal, they are connected to the rest of the world with a small devise in their hands; more than 50, 000 of them are leaving universities every year armed with inquisitiveness, not guns; and many of them are not interested in unseating a government, but they want to ask ‘why’ when they are being wronged by the powerful and well connected. No one, least the government, should be threatened by this as to drive them en mass to their death and destruction. It is time this country admits that the roads, the buildings and the numbers are not all to the story of its peoples’ lives.
Lest we forget in just the last one year alone Ethiopians have watched hopelessly and in silence at the killings and mysterious disappearances of unarmed university students in the hands of the state security apparatus; arrests and mass exodus of journalists; and relentless crackdown against bloggers, activists and members of opposition political parties who share one thing in common: dissenting views to that of the government, not destructive views as the state’s single narrative established it and got away with it. The lessons from this are enough to drive thousands out in search of security and of a better life.
Ethiopia is home to people of resilience; they have been through years of unimaginable pain brought both by their own governments and foreign aggressors; but they have a remarkable ability to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again. They will do so in the wake of the Libya, South Africa and Yemen’s tragedy, too. But they have the right to know that their children are not dying in oceans and wilderness of other countries just to ‘get rich or die trying.’
Ed’s note: in the print version of we mentioned that all the victims “were Christians”. However, news that emerged after AS magazine went to the printing press states one of the victims, Jemal Rahman, was a Muslim who knowingly went with the his Christian fellowmen.