An open letter to the British Government – By: Hailu Kassa
I use Nome de plumes or pen names to write articles not because of any attempt to hide from those I write to expose as from those who closely know me as nobody. When it comes to personal material possessions, family and social status literally I am nobody for I have been battling health issues which I am winning thanks to coming to the UK. As I was in the thick of it shuttling in and out of hospitals with one surgery after the other in 2011, I was also reading the tragedy that struck an Ethiopian lady in Libya who was burned beyond recognition as boiling hot water was poured on her entire body from head down by the wife of one of the Gaddafi’s sons.
As I expected and missed anyone who could come to her rescue from the side of the Ethiopian government I was also highly impressed when that void of humanitarian response was swiftly filled by the UK government as the Ethiopian lady was offered treatment by the UK and taken to Malta for that purpose. My expectation of the Ethiopian government was justified in that even the poorest and the smallest country on earth cannot reasonably miss the means to rescue a poor woman in distress leave alone a huge country like ours whose rulers cannot talk enough of the economic boom they have brought to the land. That humanitarian gesture from the British government has left me with a feeling of admiration I will never forget, more so because it was happening at the same time I was undergoing a similar situation. It is one thing to watch from the sideline somebody’s pain being alleviated but it is a different thing to do so while undergoing the same experience.
Unfortunately though, I find myself torn between my feelings of awe for the UK’s humanity on one hand and the insensitivity and indifference of the UK’s government towards the plight of the Ethiopian marginalised mass on the other hand. Given how my life has been saved with the help of the UK it should have been a different person to raise this issue not me. But in the face of the magnitude of the rampant misrule against the Ethiopian poor mass by the very group that calls itself the government and the UK’s insensitivity towards it at its best and presumed active role to enable such misrule to stand at its worst, I strongly feel this should be raised by anyone including myself.
The UK is a country that leads the world in all the assets of democratic values as it prides itself on the free press from as far back as 1695 and the habeas corpus (the right not to be unlawfully arrested) from 1679 both of which date back to 300 years ago. Anyone should understandably expect a country with such illustrious history for human liberty among other things to be genuinely outraged in the face of any suppression and abuse of these liberties anywhere in the world. And at the same time stand up for its legitimate interest since both are not mutually exclusive far from anywhere near being suspected of trying to prop up in power the enemies of such freedom and fundamental human rights such as the junta ruling Ethiopia today. Unfortunately when the European Union grills the agents of EPRDF/TPLF in Brussels on human right issues in Ethiopia year after year the UK’s voice has stood out for remaining silent.
The British government stands accused in Ethiopian circles not only of having a soft spot for the Ethiopian despots but also of directly funding the tyranny and diplomatically lobbying the US Government to turn a blind eye to the misrule in Ethiopia. Rumours have it that the British government is up with a renewed effort of watching the back of the Ethiopian rulers citing the fresh move being made by the UK to send military forces to the South Sudan and Somalia as well as a renewed security cooperation talks with Kenya. This all accusation may be a bit of a stretch but the British government as a key player on the global stage and as a body at the forefront on Ethiopian issues from the very inception has little to show for clearly standing up to the tyrants in Ethiopia who are determinedly running a country of over 90 million people along a very dangerous path.
One thing among others always stands out as a constant reminder of the unhelpful role played by the UK government in Ethiopia from the early 1990s up until very recently. And that is the body armour often sported by the Ethiopian brut force called the Federal Police whenever it charges with a shockingly excessive force at unarmed peaceful civilians whenever they try to demonstrate their dissatisfaction at the wide spread misrule and blatant abuse of power by its rulers. The Ethiopian police force in those outlandish body gears is often likened more to the NASA scientists out in space clad for a bloody battle against unknown aliens than a force out on earth to maintain peace and order among unarmed extremely peaceful people. Though the UK has announced having stopped the £27million annual fund earmarked for the training and arming of the infamous force about a year ago, many see it as too little too late since it has come too late to disarm what it has armed for the wrong purpose hence they ask more from the UK government.
I live in England and I write in English. As a refugee who resettled in the UK as recently as about five years ago and as one from Ethiopia where English language is a rare commodity, I understand my English is not as good as that of the native British. Though obviously English is not a language widely spoken in Ethiopia I am proud of communicating my thoughts and putting my ideas across both by speaking and writing in English with a fair degree of fluency thanks to the early opportunity I had to learn English language in school. Having born to a less privileged family back ground in the remote rural Ethiopia, I had the chance to learn due to the universal education opportunity that was open to all Ethiopian children without discrimination of any sort what so ever. That is one reason besides their unquestionable sense of patriotism for which the previous Ethiopian governments get credits no matter how despotic they had always been.
I travelled bare foot about 18km (36km to and fro) morning and evening while learning from grade one to eight at the only primary school in the district. But it was a good quality education worth my arduous daily trek at that very early age. I am always appreciative of and remain grateful to the progressive thinking adopted by the previous governments for they saw the benefit of educated and empowered wider society (capacity permitting) unlike the one we have today which sees benefit for the few in depriving the majority by diluting the quality of education across the nation except for the privileged ones.
I learned English by reading my exercise books as I was looking after cattle on weekends and when school was on vacation. No matter how it sounds as an immodest way of being educated, the quality inherent in the education system then with the conscious effort I had put in, thanks to the constant pressure from my father wanting me to do well, has enabled me not to lag too much behind the children of the rich who were born with a silver spoon in their moth. As much as a domineering father he was, my father had no match in the way he wanted me to learn. That very challenging and adventurous but empowering way of life I had has been deliberately denied to the Ethiopian children who are in my situation across the nation today. They go to schools that impart no knowledge and that is one thing among many others that highly disturbs well-meaning Ethiopians among which I count myself.
Though Ethiopia is counted among nations with a history predating many others the fact of its nation building was a very slow process owing to mainly lack of educated man power and low level or non-existing industrialisation. The fact of remaining independent by fighting off colonial attempts has also had its downside particularly on the social and economic progress of the nation as a whole. During the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie the Ethiopian children had the best education with a highly limited reach as schools were mostly confined to the capital city and provincial capitals due to capacity both in terms of man power and resource being a nation that was having its first shot at everything you call modernisation. How privileged the earlier Ethiopian students was self evident in that Addis Ababa University – the only university in the country then, was located in the palace. Ironically enough the core elements in the group that rules Ethiopia today could be traced back among those privileged early groups; though for no understandable good enough reason they have chosen to immorally militate against the very poor people that has afforded them the best education they never had themselves.
Gradually though, primary schools were able to be opened almost in every district and it was one of those primary schools that I joined just at the same time the emperor was deposed and Derg usurped and destroyed the popular uprising. For all its evils the military regime has also earned credit for expanding education opportunities to a remarkable level without diluting the quality as many more primary and more secondary schools were opened in many localities, one of them almost next door at my birth place, resulting in unprecedentedly a significant number of children from poor family backgrounds like myself joining universities and graduating with a highly competitive degree and diploma certificates. That has been maliciously made history by the group that calls itself the government of today as it opened schools and universities almost in every village for political purpose by deliberately killing the quality of the education to ensure none will succeed except the privileged few which is also made possible by different education curriculum in the same country.
As I said at the beginning I am a nobody, and that is testimony enough to reflect on my motive for loudly crying out my concern as it is neither for any desire for power nor being consumed by grudge for a lost power what so ever as I was a mere student all thru the despotic reign of the Derg regime. Whenever I raise issues of my country what derives me more than most is the malicious deprivation aimed at the children of the poor mass who stand not to experience the very basic opportunity I had to learn English language though their parents are paying thru the nose a skyrocketed amount of tax which would never be used to make their life and the future of their children any better. That is what motivates and drives my opposition voice for I strongly feel that I owe it to them to voice their misfortune at any given opportunity.
Sad enough, in a highly and widely tech dependent and fast globalising world of today very few if any among 80% of Ethiopian children from high school level down wards can be expect to understand what the word computer stands for leave alone to have seen and used it. As if that is not enough, even the English language that would be handy if and when they have access to a computer stands mischievously denied to them. On the contrary, the ruling party is busy telling the world the metro shuttle it has pioneered in Africa side by side with the famine that is ravaging the land with about 7 to 12million people said to be at risk of dying of hunger if emergency food does not arrive sooner than later.
It is simply mind boggling to imagine the self defeating metro gimmick meant to hoodwink the outside world and aimed at insulting the intelligence of the Ethiopian genuinely concerned opposition force by the futile political propaganda of gilding the pill and covering the rot that belies the fallacious façade far from any genuine reflection of economic advancement. It also disheartens to see how The Economist magazine a worldwide read UK publication had spent no time before it grabbed and gave resonance to the hollow-metro lending unqualified credit to it by doing so.
As self evident as it is what Ethiopia needs today is neither a phantom metro nor an expanded mega airport. But a genuine and dedicated attempt at providing equal opportunity for its children geared towards empowering them to stand on their feet and succeed in the highly competitive world, a truly inclusive political process that treats all citizens equally and fairly, a means of alleviating hunger and building a sustainable capacity to have enough food even when rain fails which is easy and doable for a country called the water tower of Africa gifted with permanent and all season rivers crisscrossing the land in all corners of the country; what Ethiopia needs more than most is putting an end to the endless sale of the country’s fertile lands to foreigners and few ruling clique at a throw away price by uprooting citizens from their ancestral land in the name of development as millions starve to death. Of course, all that should start with the immediate and unconditional resolution of political and social conflicts that are threatening to send the entire nation down the road of no return.
One can easily imagine the shame of a government with the worst human right and socio-political issues on its hand in Africa telling the world how it has pioneered the first Metro in the Africa continent. Metro for what or for who in a country whose citizens have unresolved burning issues with crucial facts such as the corrupt ways of its rulers, the recklessly inequitable distribution of national wealth, highly complicated and unresolved socio-political questions given a government that rigs election after elections and rules with iron fist.
As a child I used to see some consumer goods I cannot clearly remember today with labels that read “made in Kenya”. On the wrap of those items were the indispensible pictures of either a giraffe or an elephant or a cheetah or an antelope. That left in my mind an impression of Kenya as a jungle people who lived in the forest freely mingling with wild animals. That was until I could later realise the purpose of those pictures as part of Kenya’s promotional effort for tourism. I never expected them to speak English at all leave alone have a well developed infrastructure and modern cities. When I landed in Kenya and saw children speaking fluent English just across a tiny seasonal stream that passes as a border between very closely linked but supposedly two towns in two different countries, my long held mistaken impression of Kenya suddenly started falling apart before I had enough time to realise.
Without any conscious effort I often saw myself drawn closer to where children were playing and start engaging them with conversations in English as a way of testing my own English as exploring the depth of their skills in the language. As someone just from university few months ago it took me no time to see how I was no match to primary school children in English language especially the fluency of the way they were speaking. Though I had a fairly good skill in writing, speaking English was near embarrassment for me as it was for any other Ethiopian that grew up in Ethiopia until my stay in Kenya gave me the boost my English needed. All along it did not take me long to easily get the sense of how the Kenyans were more empowered than we were. And I was having that feeling then without knowing how the government that freshly took power in Ethiopia would dilute the education system to the extent of denying the Ethiopian children of today that level of education which enabled me to compare our self to Kenyans and see the difference to know how ours was still lacking.
I hope this can easily shed some light on how the Ethiopian generation of today has been deliberately made to remain behind in the highly competitive world of today where English language has become an indispensable master key to successful life. This alone amounts to generational blight and that is why anybody who does anything that can help the oppressive system in Ethiopia to stand cannot escape being seen as campaigning against the Ethiopian poor mass.
posted by Gheremew Araghaw