Breaking the cycle of injustice & violence

June 27, 2007


Regrettably, it may take extraordinary miracle to resurrect my faith in my countrymen sense of fairness and justice that has been dead for long time. Sadly, everything that is happening in front of my eyes does not help but reinforces this pessimistic view.

In my own limited experience, I have yet to see when justice prevails. Be it from the right or the left, it is justice that becomes the first causality. Not surprisingly, it is always the bullies who set the agenda and win! Sadly, my fellow citizens are also conditioned for the last 40 years to witness injustice and live with it. Some even go out of their ways to find excuses and justify that injustice is part of a normal life.

“Yes, it is tragic, yes it is unfair” but “politics is always a dirty game” is an advice everyone dispenses these days when they see injustice committed. May be it is time to ask why politics has to be dirty. Is it because we have a sectarian sense of fairness and justice or lack shared moral values to have the same views of right from wrong?

It is sad to see the same thing happening time and again. From the military Derg era until now, it is the upholding of justice that is being grossly over looked. One only needs to throw outrageous allegations, make it bolder and louder and victory is always assured. The victims are always statistics who are not only forgotten quickly but also accused of being naive. Since we have lived through it for far too long, accepting injustice and living with it has become – our way of life.

Now I can comfortably say “right” and “wrong” have lost their meanings. The maxim of “injustice to any body is injustice to every body” is not in the minds of a good number of my fellow “educated” countrymen.

It is also getting common to hear some arguing saying being right is not important and so they advice the ‘weaker’ to give in, keep quite, run away, hide or submit to injustice. Those on the wining side also get busy advising the ’stronger’ to kick harder when the weaker is down with his luck or sing “Yefeyel Wetete”. These are the wisdoms that commonly passed around on the internet, media or concerned parents and good friends to a loved one. “Be fair, be firm, live with your consciousness, defend your rights” are no more in the menu.

That is why I am compelled to ask what is wrong with us? Why are things going from bad to worse? How can we create a better future for all of us if we all have a sectarian view of truth and justice? Why are we not bothered to create a sustainable future? I have no answer to many questions crossing my mind and may never will but I know one thing for sure; we have to change. We need to change our mindset. We have to develop and abided by the minimum shared moral values to judge the right from the wrong, the just from the unjust and the fair from the unfair.

Of course, nothing comes for free and every thing has a price. When I say stand firm for fundamental values that we keep close to our heart, I don’t mean in traditional sense of physical confrontation; it is about having the will power to stand firm for what we believe is right and try to succeed. It is not about being violent to one another but it is about adopting a fair and humane way of dealing with one another; it is about the will to break the cycle of violence and injustice. I say this not because I have a luxury to preach but because it is clear to me that justice cannot be achieved through revenge and injustice. We can only reap the seeds we sow.

It is mind boggling that we have been running in a loop for the last 40 years and yet have not noticed that we are going nowhere. One day we think we have made one giant step forward but next day we find ourselves on the same place we left behind. If this generation fails to break this cycle of violence and injustice, I do not think that history will forgive it and may reap the seed it sows from what becomes of its own offspring. Violence and Injustice only give fruit to violence and injustice.

Why did we fail to break the cycle of injustice?

I have not studied this subject and my guess is as good as anyone but it is time that our learned men need to put our society and particularly the so-called elites under critical scrutiny to come up with some explanation. As a bystander, I have seen injustice inflicted from the right and from the left; I have seen people get hurt for no apparent reason than standing up and expressing their views; for being simply different, for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, even for being right. Particularly in the last 40 years, the age-old religious or traditional moral values [Feriha Ejiziabher] were abandoned and there was nothing to restrain individuals from becoming psychopaths, serial killers or playing God. In addition to the unabated erosion of moral values, the following two reasons may have contributed for our failure to break the cycle of violence and injustice.

1. Righteous indignation – The elite suffers from victim mentality.

If you go and talk to randomly selected 100 elites across the political spectrum, most of them suffer from certain degree of righteous indignation. Most of them not only think that they are absolutely right and everybody else is completely wrong, but also harbour a victim mentality and phantom grievances. Perpetrators as well as victims are absolutely clear to themselves that they are the victims and hence their cruel and sadistic way of treating one another is fully justifiable. Most are obsessed with their misfortune while giving no regards to the feelings and rights of the others. In such scenario, it is not even possible to communicate with one another let alone break the cycle.

2. Trap of Revolutionary Justice

Unfortunately, most Ethiopian elites are children of infamous Joseph Stalin and hence fixated in revolutionary justice. In Stalinist mindset the end justifies the means. Compromise, reconciliation and fairness are regarded as a sign of weakness. Give-and-take for the sake of co-existence is regarded as cowardice. So no sympathy is accorded to the “enemy” even when the enemy is down. Anything less than total vanquishes and humiliations are not acceptable. In fact, it has become a tradition to sing “Yefeyel Wetete” on the dead body of a victim.

The slogan that it is only on the “grave of the enemy” that a new nation can be built still resides in the mind of this generation. Hence, we become so cruel to one another and devoid of any human feelings. The irony is that we are so partisans that when it happens to us, our party, our ethnic group or our system, it is always unjust but when we do the same thing to others, it becomes all right, fine, fair, just and unavoidable.

The danger of cycle of injustice: We reap what we sow

When a revolutionary mindset and self-righteousness come together, the conscious and fear of God become redundant. “Fereha Egiziabeher” gets out of the way to give way for the rule of the jungle. Then a hollow victory becomes the ultimate god.

This is probably what clouds our conscience, our sense of right and wrong, to be led by evolutionary or revolutionary survival instinct. Some one said “conscience is the chamber of Justice”; hence, when one runs away from his/her own consciousness, then everything becomes so normal and so right. One can lie, kill, and twist justice and torture with impunity and take pride in his/her sadistic rituals. As far as I can see, this problem transcends the political, ideological as well as ethnic divide of Ethiopian politics. It appears to me that this is more of a generation problem.

Where there is no consciousness to refrain us from wrongdoing, then nothing seems and feels wrong. In such a case, justice will be the last thing to bothers our conscience. Instead the rule of the jungle prevails and every thing is treated on the bases of evolutionary instincts. It is either “fight” or “flight”, “meal” or “predator”, “friend” or “enemy”. We need to remember that even foxes, wolves and snakes are perfectly capable of doing that and it will be a total waste of material to be created in the form of a human being if we refuse to use our consciousness or adopt moral values. We should not forget that it is this “the consciousness stuff” that makes us human and humane.

If we refuse to use our consciousness and continue to be ruled by the rule of the jungle, life wouldn’t get any better and even worse the cycle of violence and injustice wouldn’t be broken. We are interconnected in inflicting and receiving pains. What goes round, comes round to bite us. We remain part of a giant Ekub where pain is collected and passed in turn. Like the predators in the jungle, we chase the weakest to be chased later by the strongest; we will make a lunch out of the weakest so as to end up becoming a dinner for the strongest.

That is why it is time to ask not only what the hell we are doing but also who really we are. We need to ask ourselves what civilized societies do to co-exist. Is it impossible to do what six billion people on this planet effortlessly do? Co-exist!

Of course, to achieve that we need to change, we need to stop pretending, we need to think, and we need to use our conscious and judged by it. Since thousands of years ago, people have developed moral norms and commandments from the shortest of “The Ten Commandments” to an elaborated and highly sophisticated Human Rights Charters. If we continue to be ruled by the rule of the jungle, keep the cycle of injustice, anger, revenge and hatred unabated, we will reap more of the same. The cycle goes on like the food chain in the jungle. We eat someone today to be eaten tomorrow by some body else. Certainly this is a life lesser than that of a human being.

Finial Thoughts

My two cents worth of advice: It is time to make every conscious effort to restore our conscience and take a strong moral view of right and wrong, just and unjust and fair and unfair. If not, we have no one to blame except ourselves for not departing from the abhorable vicious cycle of injustice and violence which we have been accustomed to doing for centuries. As Albert Einstein reported of saying “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. It is insane to inflict pain on one another and expect to reap love, peace, co-existence and prosperity. The world is changing and it is time for change and try something different. We should not forget that as people, we are already a subject of debate in some academic circles.

Since we have been so poor and at the bottom of human development league table, some scholars have gone as far as saying that we are poor because we are the less intelligent people. Since intelligence is about solving problems and it is through day- to-day problem solving that development can be achieved, someone has tried to turn the table to say we are less developed because we are less intelligent. You may call it a racist theory but the test of the pudding is in the testing; the proof lies in our ability to become author of shared moral codes, justice and prosperous system. It is through our achievements that we will be judged. We will be judged by monuments we have built in our time, the system we have developed, the technological breakthrough we have achieved and a legacy we have left behind. We will be judged by what we have achieved in our life time but not by excuses after excuses we list for not realising our potentials. We will be remembered and respected by the things we have built but certainly not by the things we destroyed.

Unless we use our intelligence to solve our differences in a fair, just and humane way; unless we develop and shared moral values to guide us through rights from wrongs; unless we respect ourselves and one another; unless we start to use more of our intelligence than our shear physical force, we will remain being a subject of scrutiny and a hot topic of discussion be it by racist or honest scholars. The Ethiopian revolutionary generation has the last chance to make peace and reconciliation with itself and leave something positive behind for the future generation for the first time.

This revolutionary generation have not only worked hard to destroy all the sense of prides of the nation that was left behind by our forefathers but also have been working actively to inherit stigma to the generation to come. A generation that is comfortable to carry the begging bowl is happy to pass down the same begging bowl to its children. That is surely a curse!

That is why I say, for heaven sake, please let us use our intelligence not our evolutionary or revolutionary instincts to chase one another. Let’s not treat one another or fellow human beings as a meal or a predator. Let’s all vow to break the rule of the jungle to being just and fair to each other. Trust me no body will lose from fair, humane and just system. For goodness sake, break the cycle of injustice, unfairness and violence!!!