An Indian Fable to Portray Ethiopian Current Experience

November 14, 2007

Adapted by
Gemoraw Kassa
November 2007, Addis Ababa

Some literatures of the Far East oriented historians, sociologists and linguists tell about the close relations of Indians and Ethiopians more specifically in terms of spiced traditional foods, dressings and related vocabularies. Kemis and netela (an Ethiopian woman’s ordinary dress and scarf respectively), for instance, are Indian origin words adopted and being used in Amharic language today. There are many more social values that we share in common with Indians. In cognizant of this fact, I have taken a liberty to use an Indian Fable to portray the Ethiopian current experience. Here the fable follows with a few modified approaches:-

Once upon a time a donkey was walking in a dense forest. At a short distance he saw a frightening matter. No way to escape, as the path was too narrow to return back and trees were too dense to cross aside. Hence he had no option other than to stay where he was staring at the scary matter in front and suffering his own extreme horror. He entirely found himself dumbfounded. After a while, however, he was able to realize that the scary matter was not alive. To the surprise of the panicked donkey, the scary matter was nothing but a deceptive skin of a dead lion.

The recovered donkey recollected himself and began to think how to revenge not only his fragile sensitivity but also his environs at large. He covered himself with the skin of the dead lion to disguise his true nature. As of that date, every walking life in a jungle had been afraid of him. He was treated with fear and reverence whenever he went. No one on earth would dare to approach this “lion”. He mastered to act like the king of the jungle so well that he grew overconfident with his trick. He thought to himself that nobody would dare to fight with him. Hence he confidently decided to scare off a pack of hyenas on his own. Per his determination, he practiced it and when the hyenas saw the scary “lion” approaching, they ran away in panic. Thus he became so elated with his victory over his bitter enemies that he over enjoyed his unprecedented conquest. He assertively began to believe that he had mastered not only the acquired but also inborn qualities of the king of the jungle but one thing was not achieved yet, roaring as a lion.

That was also taken as simple as anything for the “triumphant lion”. So long as he managed to scare all beasts on earth including the hyenas, he convinced himself that anything was possible and everything was permissible at his blessing. Thus he took a deep breath and tried to roar but he could only manage to bray like a donkey and his siblings. By this futile attempt, among many others, his bitter enemies, the hyenas, were too quick to realize that they had been tricked. They nauseatingly surrounded “the lion donkey” and made a good lunch out of him. Since then the poor donkey has been forced to survive only by his past glory that could not be achieved any more by anyone of his siblings any longer.

This is the famous and widely spoken Indian fable but please pay attention that we Ethiopians are rich in similar oral and written literatures. We may not need to borrow of anyone but a narrator is entitled to make his choice as a variety. This fable is my favourite choice for it is ironical and communicative to effectively portray our current experience with fairly good flavor of works of art. It is usually quoted and narrated by an observer of one’s failure to know one’s limit. It also strictly serves to tell about a person who causes a fatal damage to his own destiny and by extension to his neighbours by not knowing his own limits.

Moreover, the fable artfully reveals the cause and effect of knowing vis-à-vis unknowing the inborn or acquired potential capacity of oneself. From the out set, I do remember that the latest authoritative person (sorry for forgetting his name) whom I borrowed this fable from had been disappointed by the way the Ethiopian government senior officials were exerting deceptive act, as well as the opposition leaders and some supposedly social figures including the public as a whole were behaving and complying with mob decisions. Given the consequence, my readers could address the loss and humiliation as an outcome of a naive or spontaneous move. According to the writer who used the fable at that time, many of the failures of particularly the opposition were rooted mainly in their ignorance of their real limits, preparedness and organizational capacities. Be it by feeling over confident by the applaud of the mass, or due to the intensive pressure of the public or by oversight, this was an important omission committed by the opposition as appeared following the May 97 national election vote rigging. They were bare-facedly trying to play the “lion donkey” trick with EPRDF. The Ethiopian government authorities particularly the big bosses in power were and are not also immune of this destructive accusation and national humiliation that followed if not to take the lion share of the root cause.

I believe that the Indian fable is still adequately portraying the behaviours or experiences of the old and newly emerged group and individuals who have once again become under discussion in connection to the national issues of the current Ethiopia. Among many others, what is going on with the opposition and some individuals within and more annoyingly of abroad has become a major point of public hot discussion. The unexpected disengagement of Ato Hailu Shawul from the rest of the group turns to be paradoxical. It is also regrettable that the unfruitful backdoor soothing addressed to each party and the unwelcome reaction from both sides is confusing and ungraceful. It is more annoying to observe such destructive and naïve act which is being exacerbated by self-styled catalysts in the Diaspora. The sum total of the bizarre has made our people lose interest to take part in the struggle for peace and justice. It has further dashed once again the public hope for democracy. As you may share my view, no one should be proud of repeating such a fatal political mistake. No one with social reputation and personal integrity could benefit out of it either.

Some times in October this year, I heard of Professor Mesfin Woldemariam on VOA Amharic programme, from an Indian hospital surgical ward. He wanted to leave us his final words behind in case the medication goes wrong. He reminded us what had happened between Ato Lidetu and Dr Berhanu and its outcome at earlier time. I think he intended to say Lidetu and Hailu not Berhanu who might be eye-catching political rivals by then. Compared to the two, Berhanu is a late comer to the recent role in party affiliated politics. Refraining from guessing what will follow in days to come, Mesfin attributed the above current bizarre of the opposition to the struggle for political power between Ato Hailu and Dr Berhanu. Let us agree that such struggle amongst politicians is not taboo by itself because without seizing a political power, it’s unlikely to implement the political programme of a political party. Of course, I have reservation whether the two persons (Ato Hailu and Dr Berhanu) heartily believe in leading one united organization. Having this reservation in mind, their competition for political upper hand has to be taken as normal phenomena in playing a healthy political game. Just take it as it had been happening between Tony Blair and Golden Brown in the current ruling Labour Party in the United Kingdom. But it turns to be an awkward bizarre for Kinijit supporters, Hailu and Berhanu if they fail to know their real situations, limits and goals to achieve. The struggle is going to be more destructive and disgusting particularly when it degenerates to ethnic oriented politics, or gives priority to personal fame and privilege for which some other egoistic personalities have already gone mad to enjoy either of these alternatives.

It is natural that many people if not all want to win attention. They want fame but there must be a limit for it. That is what they usually miss. It turns destructive when their missing excessively passes its limits. World history has proven that some significant personalities are more popular than the organizations they formed or used to lead. Mahatma Gandhi of India, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, and Adolph Hitler of Germany are typical examples for this astonishingly special world figures’ experiences. Irrespective of the content of their missions and mottos, the world can tell you more about Mandela than his South Africa’s National Liberation Movement (ANC – Africa National Congress of today) and more about Hitler than his Nazi Party. These public figures remain as unique characters (protagonists) in the history of our planet. It is sad to learn that many Ethiopian timely heroes including the self-styled political figures want to achieve such an extraordinary unique fame but without success particularly in the current generation. They do not deserve that when we investigate their back history and personal profile, both in commitment and competence. Maybe, Prof. Mesfin with his EHRCO could have claimed that privilege some years ago. But all the rest folks, the more they go for that unique fame and privilege, the less they achieve and finally end up in a grave defeat. They remain being the big losers of their over ambitious game that exactly matches the lion donkey’s trick in the Indian fable.

It is surprising that individuals running for that sort of fame and honor pay little attention to the big issue of their people. They remain indifferent or reluctant to things on progress at the ruling party camp and to its future agenda. Currently, it is worthwhile to note that the central ideas observed at the EPRDF cadres’ national conference held from the 28th of July to the 9th of September 2007 in military camps located at Birr Sheleqo (Gojam), Tolai (North Omo) and Hurso (Harar), as posted on ethiofact.com website, give a clear indication to the future destiny of our people and country as already devised by the ruling party. According to that event dialogues, we are expected to travel a long and tiresome journey to make fair and free election, and socially required change of a system possible in Ethiopia. Despite this hard fact, I have never heard of an opposition leader addressing himself/herself to this important and timely national issue. Why?

According to PM Meles’s responses to some questions of the participant cadres in the stated conference, the implementations of the golden ideas (elements of democratization process) are welcome so long as they serve to meet the political end of the party in power, EPRDF. This implies that the much token new visions in the new Ethiopian millennium are subject to this restriction and good will of the government. The promised basic elements of democratization process that include accommodative and tolerance between the party in power and the opposition, promotion of all inclusive democratization process, a free choice of political partners and free participation, freedom of expression and citizens’ rights to organization, independent act of trade unions and formation of a civil society, equity and equality, eradication of poverty, independent justice system, achievement of peace and prosperity, etc being served on government controlled mass media on daily basis are more likely to remain in vain. This is more likely to be put in effect because corruption, nepotism, embezzlement, abusing state power, mistrusts, harassments, arbitrary arrests, and tortures have still been reported from all over the place in the country. What has been promised has not been practiced yet.

More frustratingly, I have heard of Ato Meles Zenawi and Ato Syoum Mesfin accusing the opposition of campaigning for the endorsement of HR 2003. I also heard of them quoting some loyal academics who compare the content of the proposals in HR 2003 with that of the Wuchale Treaty. As far as my understanding is concerned, the two top officials are intending to link this view to the opposition leaders perhaps with an aim to accuse them of outraging national sovereignty of the country which is tantamount to the previous unpopular charge namely high treason. They are mentioning very often their government’s official pardon, amnesty and forgiveness offered to the recently released opposition leaders. Perhaps this is not only to ridicule the opposition but also to advise those on the Diaspora mission especially Ms Birtukan and Dr Berhanu to be scared of returning back to their country. This unwarranted warning of the government top officials may in the mean time serve for some as a blessing in disguise to be seen (who is who) in practice very shortly.

As far as my observation is concerned, the tightened tensions in the region, the internal and external conflicts, have been paid less attention than they deserve. The newly and problematic neighbour country in the north, Eritrea, is screaming for fresh war. It’s reported that the buffer zone previously occupied by the UN peace force has been evacuated. PM Meles says, “no one knows where and how it ends if a fresh war is to break.” The people may still stick to rethinking of a port, a way-out to the historic sea, but the decision makers to get rid of President Isaiyas Afeworki for good. Then the likely fresh war in the north is to be broken and conducted without common goal of the stakeholders. What is going on in Somalia is not only sawing seeds of discord amongst the two nations but also its potential danger is open to all concerned. In addition, the alarmingly escalating standard of life and dissatisfaction of presumably the vast majority citizens from within turns out to be a severe headache and inflammatory to the incumbent regime in Ethiopia. The question is who is going to benefit out of all these crises? Absolutely not the innocent Ethiopian people. Neither could the opposition nor the government be. This may be a fresh cake only for those who have got ill-will towards the wellbeing of Ethiopia. The other important question is do the big bosses in power accept this hard fact on the ground and are they ready to change their stubborn minds and react in line with the public interest? Let alone an institution at a level of a government, even an individual who wants to run minor public affairs has to respect and comply with the principle of collective decision, transparency and accountability to discharge his responsibility effectively and win public support.

Dear my readers, don’t you smell the inevitable dangers on pending if the Ethiopian government officials continue with their old trick of the Indian fable “lion donkey” to undermine the public interest and the role of the opposition altogether? Can we Ethiopian afford all the predicaments that may follow any longer? Does a healthy and responsible citizen distance himself from these dismaying national problems? Is national reconciliation still valid as a remedy to heal these current Ethiopian social, economic and political crises? Are those who show contempt on this big issue could come up with convincing arguments? What is the tangible alternative they may claim to put in place? In short, do they know the actual need of the Ethiopian people, the prompt position of the opposition, their limit and of the Ethiopian government?

Please avoid the unworkable plan, hasty and irrational generalizations, hatreds towards people with different views and unrealistic ambition. It is rather better or advisable to feel free to read your mind, tell the truth and go for it that practically helps us prevail over the predicaments fast approaching. Let us think of an inclusive means that fits our limits. By the way, do the Ethiopian government authorities give ears to what they want to hear or to the facts on the ground? Are they aware that the people they claim to lead democratically have no credible media to air out their real feelings? I am afraid they aren’t. They rather might take their timeservers’ “appeasing report” for grant as if anything were possible and everything permissible at their blessing as just the lion donkey of the Indian fable took his fake trick as true and everlasting victory.

Based on such false feedbacks, our state authorities may also feel comfortable by assuming that the contemporary public silences as peace and maybe as surrender but they better know that it eventually leads to many more inevitable and fatal political mistakes. Thus I think this is time to think twice for them. Let us all think twice before we do things related to particularly national interests and securities. It is practically attested that a sheer pretension like the lion donkey in the Indian fable, deceptive move, mob decision, spontaneous reaction, or an exclusive action takes us nowhere whilst managing national affairs. To reverse this tradition is absolutely essential for all concerned who are stakeholders in the national interest and security of this country, Ethiopia.