Being an Ethiopian

Being an Ethiopian

Written By

Abdul Mohammed

A new generation of elite Ethiopians is emerging, a new hybrid of our traditions and global culture. We can be introverted, secretive and conspiratorial, hiding our qualities even from our neighbours and turning away from opportunities for advance. But Ethiopians are also globalized, multi-lingual and entrepreneurial, proud both of our traditions and our adaptability, ready to embrace the challenges of modernity.

Our resilience in the face of adversity over the course of history is an inestimable quality that cannot be abandoned, because the years ahead will certainly challenge us—in the foreseeable future, climate change and the political convulsions of our near neighbours will undoubtedly call for hard choices. Our creativity and internationalism will equally be assets as globalization continues to alter the landscape of opportunity. In educating the coming generations of young people, both sets of qualities must be fostered.

The modern world contains but few peoples who possess their unique and authentic calendars. Along with China, India and Iran, Ethiopia is among these few nations. We have no independence day. This year’s pairing of Millennia - on the one hand the thousand-year anniversary of the founding of Harer (a vibrant commercial city in the eastern part of Ethiopia) and on the other, the beginning of the third Millennium of the Ethiopian Calendar - serves as a symbolic tryst with destiny to remind us of the span of our history as a nation, obliging us to renew our collective pledge for the future.

Our neighbours in Africa have begun celebrating their half-centuries of independence, their celebrations serving as a generational plebiscite on an identity newly-forged. Today, Ethiopia’s identity is at once the legacy of not two but three Millennia of statehood, and also the current generation’s collective commitment to a renewed common identity.

What is our common identity? It is marked by twin themes, a double helix of inter-twined and mutually dependent characteristics. We inherit a millennia-old tradition of statehood, a common pan-Ethiopian identity, opposite equally old and vibrant traditions of local particularisms. We possess a history of peaceful ethnic assimilation, but we cannot ignore a history that has also been marked by episodes of violent attempts to impose a uniform national identity.

As a foundational home to each of the world’s three monotheistic and Hebraic faiths, we enjoy a history of religious tolerance that is an exemplar for the world. That tolerance is intertwined with powerful pride and passion among the adherents of each faith that is the fount of our great civilizational achievements including great music, literature, art and architecture. But too few of us can lift our eyes from the immediate and particular and see the wider landscape, our tapestry of interwoven beliefs. We worship the same God but rarely put an effort to know each other. Our challenge is to come to know one another without each losing our individuality.

Each of our religious traditions shares a deep spirituality and readiness to undergo deprivation and adversity for a higher principle. But that same deep attachment to categorical ethics means that Ethiopians must be especially wary of the rising tide of religious fundamentalisms elsewhere in the world.

We Ethiopians inhabit both sides of nature’s greatest geological rift, and have no difficulty in bridging civilizational divides that others have defined as irrevocably clashing. The basic reality is that our Ethiopia is a nation of many faces, and the challenge for our nation is to keep our multiple identities in balance. But this cannot be the static fossilized balance in which every individual is allotted an unchangeable identity: it must be the dynamic balance of a perpetually growing and changing people, reinventing ourselves with each generation.

Our diversity is a challenge to the historian and the politician. We are both hierarchical and rebellious, at once arrogant and humble. We are sensitive to the calculations of power and consider the pursuit of power a legitimate end in of itself. We are not so much peaceful as practical in understanding the limits of violence, preferring coexistence to common suicide. When we have taken monolithic philosophies too seriously, several times we have stepped up to the brink of self-annihilation. Coexistence is an imperative not an option.

We are a nation of historians, justifiably proud of our civilizational achievements. But too often we also nurse historical slights and offensives, disfiguring the current political arena with vendettas inherited from the past. Too frequently we are unable to raise our eyes to the whole national horizon and recognize that loyal Ethiopians can legitimately hold different opinions on matters of great importance. This unforgiving quality of our politics may be our greatest handicap in the coming years. We must learn to distinguish dissent from disloyalty.

Our common challenge is to nourish this diversity and balance, which has brought us through the last two thousand years, and can bring us through the Millennium that we have just entered. We cannot take our peace and unity for granted: each coming generation will need to find a way of enhancing what is positive while managing those traits that could threaten to tear us apart.

Our identity is an inherited treasure. It is a historical legacy that reinvents itself with every generation. Our myth of thousands of years of continuous statehood is powerful because it has a foundation in fact. In past centuries, our cultural and political elites have dominated the ownership and usage of this myth, reinforcing their power with reference to timeless authority. Today, with the expansion of education, growing intermingling among ourselves as well as the rest of the world, and awareness of our position in the world, our identity and destiny are no longer determined by a ruling class. Our future in the new Millennium depends on our openness and readiness to engage in a national conversation that involves all our citizens. The new Millennium is the era in which we Ethiopians will draw upon our rich historical legacy and democratically redefine our identity and our future.

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Ajayi Olutayo

Ajayi Olutayo

11. October, 2012 |

People like you are needed on this continent to take us to where we should be. Keep it up man!

Marcus Edibogi Akor

Marcus Edibogi Akor

11. October, 2012 |

Thanks for this powerful article. I am very glad I read it. Keep up your great work and remain Blessed Law!

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