Alemayehu G. Mariam
We, the People…
Unity is the most powerful gravitational force in the life of any people or nation. When the Americans founded their Republic, they were driven to transform their colonial identity by creating unity in a new American community. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” they announced to the world in the Preamble to their Constitution. When some Americans sought to destroy the union to preserve slavery and cleave the country, Abraham Lincoln rose to defend the indivisibility and unity of the American people: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free”, he warned those bent on “dissolving the Union”. A bloody civil war was fought to save the Union and the unity of the American people. Another Illinoisan, Barack Obama, declared at the Democratic National Convention in 2004: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.”
Is there a united people of Ethiopia today? For the past two decades, the maxim of those who have riveted themselves to the platform of power in Ethiopia has been: “We, the rulers of the people, in order to form a more perfect disunion…” They have put to use the ultimate weapon found in the arsenal of tyranny and despotism. They have divided and misruled, divided and subjugated, and divided and parceled away the land in bits, pieces and chunks. They have managed to systematically divide the people by region, city, town and even neighborhood. They have succeeded in dividing the people by corralling them into homelands (bantustans) in the name of “ethnic federalism”. They have sought to divide the people by language and religion, and even rupture the bonds of affection between Ethiopians living in the country and those in the Diaspora.
They have masterfully and cunningly used every means at their disposal to exploit and accentuate historic grievances and create new ones to cling to power. They have worked tirelessly to divide the minds, thoughts and emotions of the people by inventing lies, manufacturing half-truths, sowing discord and spreading fear, loathing and animosity. They have hatched differences where none exist, magnified and exacerbated reconcilable differences and politicized such differences and used them to prolong their grip on power. They have pitted one group against another; favored some groups and isolated and marginalized many others. Their only and final answer to the question of Ethiopian unity has been: “If Ethiopia disintegrates, so be it. It was not meant to be.”
Towards a more perfect unity for Ethiopians
Tyranny, despotism and dictatorship thrive and flourish when the people are disunited and the tyrants and their supporters maintain their ironclad unity. The single most important factor for the success of tyranny is disunity and division among the people. Unity is the ultimate antidote to tyranny and the force tyrants fear the most. Lacking unity, there could only be a weak and helpless Ethiopian community. Unity is strength; and to make possible a more perfect union among Ethiopians, a special kind of unity that grows out of our common humanity is urgently needed. This special unity is grounded in a fundamental belief that our common bonds of humanity are greater than the sum of our bonds of ethnicity, nationality and communality. It is a unity that harmonizes African and Western values. It draws upon the African ethic of “Ubuntu”, often used by Nelson Mandela to teach us about the essence of human existence: “A person is a person because of other people. You can do nothing if you don’t get the support of other people.” “Ubunity” (to coin a term) is unity that requires us to see each other as brothers and sisters and relate to each other on the basis of the principles of sharing, caring, trust, tolerance, honesty and morality. The special unity of which I speak is also grounded in an unshakeable belief that our individual liberty must be protected against those who commit crimes against humanity and acts of atrocity, sneer at public accountability and abuse their authority and act beyond the limits of constitutionality.
I ask all Ethiopians to strive for a special kind of unity which I call both “humunity” and “younity” (to coin new terms). “Huminity” is unity based not on ethnicity or nationality but on the core universal values of human dignity. It is unity that is powered by a moral commitment to respect and uphold human rights, an allegiance to the rule of law, a belief in the consent of the people as the only legitimate basis of power, and strict adherence to principles of constitutional governance, accountability and transparency. If we could develop wide and deep consensus on these values, we would have achieved unity of thought, purpose and consciousness. If we put these values into action by defending the rights of victims of human rights abuses, working for improvements in the observance of human rights conventions, organizing, teaching and preparing the youth for a democratic society, exposing corruption and abuse of power, strengthening our interpersonal relations across ethnic, religious and class lines, we will have achieved unity in action and deeds. Is it not true that the things that divide us, sow discord and hatred amongst us are rooted in and fester because of the very absence of these universal values in our lives?
Tyrants divide the people by magnifying the smallest of differences. Often, the people fall prey to the schemes of tyrants and sing their songs of discord and division. But in my conception of “huminity”, it is possible to have diversity of opinion, views and approaches because I believe “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” If we embrace and practice the universal principles of human rights, we will realize that it is not about our ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, region or anything else, but what we can do collectively and individually to remove the yoke of oppression and tyranny and institute democracy and the rule of law.
My conception of “younity” is a simple idea about you and I together standing up to tyranny and oppression. It is based on the notion that each one of us is a link in a long chain of both oppression and freedom. Our yearning for freedom welds the links in the chain of unity; tyranny melts the links. I believe we all have an individual civic and moral duty to strengthen the links and bonds of unity in the Ethiopian people by embracing and practicing the core values of human dignity and rights. Political leaders must adopt a new and more powerful language of “huminity” to bring the people of divergent views together. Religious leaders must speak of “huminity” in the language of divinity. They should preach and pray for unity. Civic leaders must speak up and advocate for “huminity”. Academics must teach the ways of “huminity”to the youth; and the youth must teach the older generation of the necessity of “huminity” for a new and enlightened Ethiopian community. Most importantly, ordinary people in the street must speak in the language of our common humanity (ubunity) to achieve ultimate unity.
Unity in the cause of liberty is the only proven weapon in the history of mankind that has defeated tyranny, despotism and dictatorship. In 1776, thirteen American colonies successfully united in a struggle against royal tyranny that had visited upon them a “long train of abuses and usurpations” and “reduce[d] them under absolute Despotism”. Africans overthrew colonialism and apartheid when they united against a common oppressor. More recently, the people of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia proved the proposition that “The people united can never be defeated.”
The price of disunity is continued victimization, exploitation, fragmentation and disintegration. We can choose to engage in internecine bickering and fear and hate-mongering. We can work at cross-purposes, undermine, undercut and underrate each other, but at the end of the day we will only have the unity of losers. Or we can choose the path of unity, ubunity, huminity and younity.
Ethiopians of all backgrounds must come together in spirit of brother and sisterhood. They must build bridges across ethnic, religious, linguistic and other divides by building alliances, coalitions and reinforcing our historic interdependence. When there is unity among the people, everything is possible. Diversity reigns supreme where there is unity. The pursuit of social, economic and political equality is much more easily attainable when there is unity among the people. The individual finds greater opportunity in a society that enjoys unity. Through unity we can go beyond the limits of humanity to the boundless realm of divinity.
We the People of Ethiopia
Some are perfectly willing to cast the fate of Ethiopia to the wind and say, “If Ethiopia disintegrates, so be it. It was not meant to be.” I believe the unity of all Ethiopians is divinely ordained. That is why I look forward to the day when Ethiopians– men and women, young and old, rich and poor, city dwellers and country folks, the learned and illiterate and those of diverse faiths and languages– will assemble and issue a Great Charter announcing to the world: “We, the people of Ethiopia, in order to form a more perfect Union…”
SUPPORT ETHIOPIAN UNITY, HUMINITY, YOUNITY, UBUNITY!
Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia, NOW!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ andhttp://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/