This is going to be a touchy one — and a little serious.
What most know about Ethiopia — or Africa in general if we are honest — is limited to poverty and corruption, with a few compliments about food and the safari here and there. Even in 2019 what most of us watch, read, and learn about Africa, in general, is through a neo-colonialist and frankly condescending lens. There is a lack of any depth in anything we consume, everything is touched by Western political and economic interest. If it doesn’t benefit the person signing the checks you’re not going to hear about it. This isn’t new, there’s a reason you don’t often hear about Venezuela’s national crisis, or why many still don’t want to talk about the Rohingya genocide, or why most people are completely unaware that the Chinese government currently has ethnic minorities in concentration camps. It’s all about the money honey. Truth doesn’t sell.
So, if you’re not personally invested in staying up to date and cracking open a history book or two in your free time you’re unfortunately going to find yourself buying into a whole lot of one-sided stories. That’s where my story comes in. The story of an Ethiopian-born American implant, long separated from home, but still very much invested in the safety of her family and home.
With just a glimpse of my face, most correctly assume I am Ethiopian. And if you get to know me better you find out I immigrated to the US at the age of 8. Sometimes, in icebreaker circles, when asked for a fun fact I mention that I speak 3 languages (however loosely I’ve kept a hold on them I will always claim them). That’s also usually followed with questions of “Oh wow! 3? What do you speak?”, which leads me to explain how I speak Amharic — the national language — and Tigrinya — my “tribal” language. In most circles that receives few fleetingly interested nods and the conversation ends there. What many don’t realize is that there are some circles where that admittance of my third language means a sudden tense shift in the atmosphere — and most recently — if you are in Addis Ababa, the very real risk of societal ostracization or possible violence.
I’m not going to sit here and make you read a thesis on Ethiopian politics, or how tribalism is woven into that delicate and centuries-long history. It’s a chaotic tale of war, death, sacrifice, independence, and resentment — even to this day. But, I’m also not here to make excuses or deny the reality that everyone involved did some problematic sh*t on their clamor to the top. Just like many things, in this struggle, it took two to tango.
Quick side note for those not versed in the nuances of Ethiopian identity politics. This current administration is a big deal for a lot of reason, one of them being that the new prime minister is from an ethnic group — the Oromo people — that has long been marginalized, even though they represent roughly 34% of the population. On the flip side, said figurehead of that quasi-totalitarian government was from the Tigray region (which accounts for little over 6% of the population). TL;DR it was decades of messy going ons where a minority ethnic group stifled a majority ethnic group out of a desire for self-preservation. But unfortunately, it’s shaping up to look like we just turned the page to a game of tit for tat backed and encouraged by the government.
You see domestic and global voices have dismissed any and all critics of the current administration as the illegitimate ramblings of opposition forces. The current dominant narrative wants you to think there was a near miracle transition from a shady Lex Luthor-type government to this modern beacon of progressiveness and diplomacy. But, when is it ever that simple. There is not a single Western media outlet that examines the motives or possible repercussions of the policies put forward by the new prime minister. I’m not your trusty NPR journalist, but what I can tell you is that if I made that 18hr flight back home for the first time in 14 years, most people would not be greeting me with open arms.
There were stories of mass purging of wrongfully detained citizens, open borders between long-warring countries, the halt of a national emergency that had everyone on the edge of their seat. Even a complete overhaul of ministerial positions where half the seats went to women. What an amazing transformation. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be on the ground? Witnessing the fruits of your hard fought protests, watching a new and young leader walk in, completely wipe the slate clean, and breathe hope into a country with so much potential. What a time to be alive.
But we’re multi-faceted here on Shut Up and Go, capable of embodying completely contradicting emotions.
I can be happy that a historically marginalized group now has representation in the highest levels of government. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t fear the potential of a government with carte blanche from the international community. A government that has made it dangerous to freely speak the language you were born and raised with.
Sure prisons that were once filled with journalists brave enough to speak about their government are now empty, but is anyone asking who fills those very same prison cells today? Where is the transparency regarding multiple strategic border policy changes? Why is searching for objective and well-informed news like hunting for the One Ring? Overt dictatorships and failing governments are scary, but I find covert and intelligently executed fear mongering a lot scarier. Suppression and cultural erasure have long been omens for darker things to come. And every tragedy begins with red flags that were ignored.
Whether we bear the sins of our ancestors or not, we have an obligation to fix it.
In an age where we have access to more information and knowledge than ever before history should not be repeating itself. We have the tools, access, and language to help carve a different path. It shouldn’t be rare that my friends and I have conversations about tribalism and how it still very much affects us. It shouldn’t be ok that I still sometimes feel judgment when I speak a language I love from people my own age.
Borders are human-made, children of the diaspora know that more than anyone.
Comment below your stories when people find out the languages you speak!