An ethnic-based conflict between Addis Ababa University (AAU) students following derogatory graffiti posted on toilet-walls and library walls has left half a dozen students with severe injuries while others had faced arrest. For decades, the clash between students at universities has witnessed many ethnic-based conflicts which many observers claim it to be the weakness of the administering body. Likewise, the Wednesday [January 2] conflict was particularly between those from the ethnic lines of Oromo and Tigre. Reports indicate that the conflict was instigated when member (sic) of the latter ethnic group scrawled derogatory remarks on the walls of toilets and the library and in his own dormitory as well.”
An official of Addis Ababa University alleged the “conflict was instigated by students who found derogatory statements posted on the wall”. Some 20 students were reportedly injured in the incident and three hospitalized including two who underwent surgery. Police reportedly arrested 20 students on unspecified charges.
My initial reaction reading this report about Ethiopia’s “best and brightest” was sheer disbelief. “This just can’t be true. It is beneath the dignity of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation (young people) to engage in such a cowardly and dastardly act. Ethiopia’s university students know better than to wrestle in the filth and sewage of ethnic politics.” I kept on reassuring myself that such wicked hatemongering could not possibly be the work of Ethiopia’s budding intellectuals, future scholars, scientists and literary men and women.
My certitude slowly gave way to gnawing disquietude. I asked myself, “Supposing the inflammatory graffiti and “derogatory statements” were written by bona fide AAU students? What would such a vile, gutless and vulgar act say about these students? About the injured students who reacted with righteous indignation? About the AAU student body? About all Ethiopian university students? About all of Ethiopia’s young people?”
As I wrestled with these questions, I was overcome by an irrepressible feeling of shame and ignominy. I kept interrogating myself, “How is it even possible for Ethiopia’s best and brightest — Ethiopia’s Cheetahs — to engage in such backward, barbaric, cruel, vicious and villainous act? Why would one group of young Ethiopian university students deliberately plan and scheme to dehumanize, demoralize, demonize, degrade and brutalize another? Why? Why? I could not come up with a rational answer.
I became even more bewildered trying to answer these questions as I was drafting my “proclamation” to make 2013 the Year of the Ethiopian Cheetahs. I could not logically fathom the occurrence of this disgusting and horrifying drama in which some Ethiopian Cheetahs were acting like Hippos and behaving like hyenas.
I put aside my roiled emotions and paused to think, and think really hard. What evidence is there to factually establish the “ethnic-based conflict” was the work of a bona fide AAU “student”? Who really is the alleged “student” who put up the offensive “graffiti and derogatory statements”? Must we believe the story line about the incident concocted by a wily university public relations desk jokey? How is it that Ethiopian “universities have witnessed many ethnic-based conflicts for decades” and continue to witness them with predictable regularity? Are there no adults in charge at the universities ready, able and willing to take preemptive and preventive action?
Doubt slowly began to displace my disappointment, shock and shame as I pondered the real possibility of this so-called “ethnic-based conflict” being stage-managed by the invisible knights of the empire. When I finally put on my forensic lenses, I could clearly see the fingerprints and footprints of a dirty rat lurking on campus once again undetected.
In May 2010, Jawar Siraj Mohammed, a young Ethiopian political commentator and graduate student at Columbia University reported, “After interviewing several students involved in these [campus] conflicts and witnessing two violent episodes in Haramaya and Adama universities in 2006, I have come to the conclusion that lack of academic freedom at the universities and infiltration by agents of Ethiopia’s secret police and security services are the major sources of conflict.”
It also dawned on me that in September 2011 we learned “Ethiopian security forces (had) planted 3 bombs that went off in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on September 16, 2006 and then blamed Eritrea and the Oromo resistance for the blasts in a case that raised serious questions about the claims made about the bombing attempt against the African Union summit earlier this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.” It was the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa which conducted its own “clandestine reporting” and fingered “GoE (Government of Ethiopia) security forces” for this criminal act.
I also recalled a 2006 secret 52-page document written in Amharicand prepared by the so-called Directorate of the Diaspora of the Foreign Ministry in Addis Ababa detailing strategy and tactics to harass, persecute and smear critics and opponents of the ruling regime and spread ethnic strife in the Ethiopian Diaspora. As I thought more about the AAU incident, the anecdotal evidence of regime dirty tricks used to undermine, neutralize and destroy opposition parties, harass and persecute dissidents and others kept popping out.
My preliminary analysis of the circumstantial evidence on who is responsible for the “ethnic-based conflict” at the AAU campus points exclusively at the usual suspects. The inescapable conclusion (until substantial counterfactual evidence is presented) is that the hate crime that took place on the AAU campus on January 2 is likely the work of anagent provocateur (s) (one or few individuals placed on campus to act as agitators and instigators) and not a bona fide student(s).
A summary review of the uncontroverted evidence supports this conclusion. First, a single “student” is officially blamed for causing the incident. This factually negates the existence of an organized hate group of students of one ethnic group engaged in the persecution of another and intent on causing ethnic strife, dissension and discord on campus. Second, the identity, background and affiliation (ethnic and otherwise) of the “student” who is said to be responsible for the criminal act has not been factually established. University officials fingered an unidentified student as being responsible. But is this “student” a bona fide student or a regime undercoveragent provocateur masquerading as a student? Does this “student” have a history of ethnic animus against students of other ethnic groups?
Third, no motive has been established for the “student” who put up the graffiti and derogatory statements in multiple locations including the “walls of toilets, the library and in his own dormitory as well.” In hate crime situations, when derogatory graffiti are directed toward a group, they are usually displayed in locations likely to be seen by the target group and intended to spark random expressions of outrage. Why would the “student” fingered for this crime target all students of an entire ethnic group as the object of his personal fury?
Fourth, other than the graffiti depicting the offensive statements, no additional evidence of hate crime was found in the possession of the “student” who committed the hate crime.
Fifth, the January 2 hate crime incident on the AAU campus cannot be seen as an isolated incident. The fact that periodic and recurrent campus hate crimes have been occurring “for decades” on Ethiopian university campuses is uncontro- verted. Why haven’t university officials taken swift and decisive action to prevent campus hate crimes with full foreknowledge of the occurrence of such incidents? Is the lack of action and intervention by university officials evidence of official tolerance, complicity, indifference and/or gross incompetence in the investigation and prevention of the occurrence of campus hate crimes? The evidence further shows that in the aftermath of the hate crime, university officials took no decisive action or implemented no preventive measures to ensure the safety of other students who could be targets of ethnic harassment on campus from a potential flare up of violence.
Sixth, why did AAU officials publicly announce, without a full and independent fact finding investigation, that the “conflict was instigated by students who found derogatory statements posted on the wall”? Why haven’t AAU officials empaneled an internal and/or outside independent investigation to thoroughly examine the causes and participants in the hate crime and make recommendations to prevent such incidents in the future? Why have university officials left this incident entirely to the police? Could it be that university officials turn a blind eye to campus hate crimes because they are directed to do so?
Seventh, why are the victims of this hate crime also the targets of arrest and detention by police?
In short, the totality of the circumstantial evidence on the hate crime committed on the AAU campus does not point an accusatory finger at students. The evidence points an accusatory finger at an invisible hand. To identify and apprehend the perpetrators of this hate crime, one must look not only for the invisible fingers that wrote the graffiti and derogatory statements on library and dormitory walls but also the hands that beat up the students to a pulp and ceaselessly bellow blasts of hot air to spread and ignite ethnic strife, fear, hate and loathing among university students.
Be that as it may, it is now time, high time, the right time…
A Time to Heal, A Time to Embrace and a Time to Reconcile
It is written that “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” There is a time to weep, a time to mourn, a time to cast away stones. There is a time to build up and a time to speak up. Then there is a time to embrace, a time for peace and a time to heal. There is a time to reconcile.
This is the time — the right time — for Ethiopia’s young people to heal in the schools, universities, the work places, the neighborhoods and in the streets. This is the time — the right time — for Ethiopia’s young people to embrace each other in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood; to hold hands and celebrate their diversity and honor their common ancestry and history.
This is the right time for all of Ethiopia’s young people to break the cycle of ethnic hatred and violence; the right time to end the futile tradition of grievance and victimhood; the right time to abandon the culture of fear, hatred and loathing.
This is the right time for Ethiopia’s youth to lock fingers and join hands to heal the open wounds of fear, loathing and antagonism in their hearts, minds and souls. This the right time to stop seeing fellow students as enemies and adversaries. It is the right time to make peace and embrace each other as brothers, sisters and partners. This is the time for Ethiopia’s best and brightest to work together for a better future, to dream of alternative futures built on a solid foundation of the rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy. As Nelson Mandela taught, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” It is time to make those we perceive to be enemies our partners.
This is the right time to unite against hate and hate crimes on and off campus. It is the right time to purge hatred from our minds and hearts; the right time to break the chains of fear that shackle and cripple young minds and hearts. It is time for Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to liberate themselves from the burdens of the past.
This is the right time for all of Ethiopia’s young people to bury the hatchet, to declare once and for all, “No! We refuse to hate each other because we belong to one ethnic group or another. No! we refuse to hate each other because we worship the same God by a different name or live in different corners of the land. No! We WILL NOT be manipulated or puppet-mastered to hate each other. We will not hate because we are civilized humans. We will not behave like predatory beasts who prey.”
This is also the right time not to do the wrong thing. This is the wrong time to engage in finger-pointing, teeth-gnashing, bellyaching or revenge planning. This is the wrong time to demonize and scapegoat one group of students as predatory beasts and disempower another group as helpless and hopeless prey. Both groups of students are the prey of those who write words of hate on library and dorm room walls.
A Word or Two from One Hippo to Many Cheetahs
Many young Cheetahs may find it amusing to listen to a member of the Hippo Generation. After all, we Hippos are known for being “intellectually astigmatic”, “lacking in vision” and “not caring if the whole country collapses around us as long as our pond is secure.” But I respectfully ask the youth to lend me your ears and hear me out.
Be the first generation of Ethiopians to unchain yourselves and the rest of us from the burdens of the past.
Be the first generation to put an end to historic hatreds and resentments, sow the seeds of understanding and tolerance and open a new chapter of truth and reconciliation in Ethiopia’s history.
Be the first generation to close the wounds of hatred that have festered for generations and declare to future generations that they will not be prisoners of the mistakes and blunders of the past generations.
Be the first generation to accept the fact that we are all equal members of the human race and will not race to the bottom to affirm out ethnicity over our common humanity.
Be the first generation to make a peace offering to each other; to bury the hatchet once and for all; to use your fingers not to pull triggers and write hateful graffiti but stretch out your fingers to shake hands, to hold hands and to lend hands.
Be the first generation to affirm the divinity in our religious diversity.
Be the first generation to say No! to insidious ethnic, religious and gender divisions.
Be the first generation to cover the walls of the libraries, dorm rooms and even toilets with graffiti of reconciliation, understanding, harmony and love.
Be the first generation to declare that you, the proud Cheetahs, are the captains of your country’s destiny and not the tired, corrupt, scheming, unprincipled and self-serving Hippos.
Be the first generation to be all you can be and to think what you will.
Be the first generation to win the war declared on our human dignity and common humanity, on our civility, morality, cordiality, integrity, and national unity by winning the struggle for the hearts and minds of your fellow youths.
Be the first generation to end the bitterness of yesterday and restore it with the sweetness of reconciliation today and tomorrow.
The Moment of Truth Has Arrived: Can the Cheetahs Save Themselves and Us?
The moment of truth for Ethiopia’s best and brightest has arrived!
Can Ethiopia’s best and brightest Cheetahs rescue themselves from the burden of the past and the legacy of ethnic prejudice and religious bigotry?
Can these Cheetahs save the cynical, wretched and laggard Hippos from themselves?
Can they teach us to create ethnic harmony out of ethnic strife, understanding out of intolerance? Can they transform sectarian discord into spiritual concord for themselves and the people of Ethiopia?
Can the Cheetahs rescue our humanity from clutches of ethnic and sectarian inhumanity and bestiality?
Can Ethiopia’s Cheetah teach us the art of reconciliation? Can they enlighten us on the science of reconciliation? Can they show us the path to reconciliation? Can they speak to us in words of reconciliation?
Can Ethiopia’s best and brightest come together as one Youth Force and make 2013 the Year of Ethiopian Cheetahs? Come together and bury the hatchet of ethnic strife and beat the swords of sectarianism into ploughshares and harvest a plenitude of reconciliation?
Yes, indeed they can!
When I “proclaimed” 2013 as the Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation last week, I promised to reach, teach and preach to Ethiopia’s youth. Little did I think about the possibility of Cheetahs reaching, teaching and preaching to me and my fellow Hippos. (That is why we Hippos are astigmatic (have distorted view) and myopic (near-sighted and narrow-minded; natural hazards of being a Hippo). Little did I think of a teachable moment coming for Cheetah’s and Hippos so soon.
So Ethiopia’s Cheetahs and Hippos face an enormous challenge. The challenge for the Cheetah’s is they must now teach the Hippos the art of reconciliation. The challenge for the Hippos is that they must learn the art of reconciliation from the Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs now have a chance to play a historic role: Teach by example.
So I call upon the young men who were involved in the incident at Addis Ababa University and their friends and all of the other students to transform this ugly moment of conflict and strife on their campus into a beautiful moment of reconciliation. I ask them to reach out to each other and ask forgiveness. It takes great courage to say something as simple as, “I am sorry.”
I call on them to come together on their own – one-on-one, in small and large groups — and discuss their differences. Try to feel each other’s pain and anguish. Be sensitive to each other’s fears and never scorn each other’s tears.
I ask them to talk to each other with open minds, open hearts and open spirits. I ask them to listen to each other’s concerns, fears, hopes and despair. I ask them to walk a mile in the shoes of their fellow students. If their fellow students do not have shoes, I ask them to walk a mile bare feet and feel the sharp-edged rocks. I believe if they walk hand in hand for a mile, with shoes or bare feet, they will have reasons to smile.
I ask Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to make 2013 the Year of Reconciliation and Peace.
Let January 2, 2013 be remembered in all history as the day Ethiopia’s university students buried the hatchets of ethnic division, religious sectarianism and gender inequality. Let the ugly incident at AAU serve as a teachable moment for the nation.
Take up the challenge to talk and listen to your fellow students and sow the seeds of understanding, tolerance and harmony.
I ask Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation to lead the Hippo Generation. Do not follow us, for we know not where we are going. We are the Hippo Generation, the lost generation.
If you don’t accept the challenge and do what is right and right what is wrong, then you would have proved to the world that Ethiopia’s Cheetahs are only Hippos in training.
To everything there is a season, a time. This is the time for Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to heal and to reconcile.
Ethiopia’s Cheetahs! What time is it?
Ethiopia’s Cheetahs united can never be defeated!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
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Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: