Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam’s latest Amharic book, “Adafne: Fear and Failure”, is at once a lamentation on the decline and decay of Ethiopian society from the corrosive effects of bad governance, tyrannical rule and moral corruption and a call to action for redemption.
Prof. Mesfin taught geography at Haile Selassie University (Addis Ababa University).
“Adafne” is a book written in the didactic tone of the professor, the angry tone of the patriot who is pained by the sight of his nation’s descent into the morass of tribal politics led by a coalition of ignoramuses and in the loving paternal tone of the wise elder giving advice and counsel to the younger generation.
Prof. Mesfin has been speaking truth to power for more years than I care to remember.
“Adafne” is his latest proclamation of truth to the powers that be and not be.
In my view, Prof. Mesfin has been the foremost Ethiopian public intellectual for at least the past four decades.
Prof. Edward Said observed that in the 21st century, the intellectual has taken the mission of advancing human freedom and knowledge by “speaking the truth to power, being a witness to persecution and suffering, and supplying a dissenting voice in conflicts with authority.”
Prof. Mesfin took upon the cross of speaking the truth to power in Ethiopia in the second half of the last century.
He has been a witness to the persecution and suffering of the Ethiopian people.
He has been a singular voice of dissent against tyranny perpetuated by an outdated monarchy and a bloodthirsty military junta called “Derg”.
He is today a witness and a victim of thugs who cling to power through international panhandling.
Perhaps it is more accurate to say he has been the voice of reason for his attempts to use his knowledge and expertise to help guide successive tyrannical regimes away from bad governance and commission of crimes against humanity.
When his efforts failed, he became a voice of reasoned dissent to publicly counter-check the excesses of tyranny.
Unfortunately, his dissent made him a target of persecution than a welcome agent of social and political change.
Today, he remains the sole fearless dissenting voice against the tyranny and corruption of the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF), an unholy alliance of murderous thugs and gangsters in designer suits play-acting “government” in Ethiopia.
He has paid dearly for his beliefs and convictions.
For the past 24 years, Prof. Mesfin has been persecuted and prosecuted by the T-TPLF.
The T-TPLF jailed him for his peaceful political and human rights activities.
Even today he is a target of intense harassment and intimidation.
The T-TPLF wants him to go into exile.
In April 2015, he wrote a defiant blog in Amharic to his T-TPLF persecutors:
… Back when I was working with the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, they [T-TPLF] would directly and indirectly try to intimidate me with aim of forcing us to go into exile or commit a crime.
Let me talk about myself. I am not sure why they want to intimidate me. I don’t know if they are trying to intimidate me because they want my apartment. In my home, the only two things that may be of value to woyane minions are two paintings by Gebre Christos Desta. Otherwise, I only have books that are of no value to woyanes. Therefore, my persecution at the hands of woyane could only be intended to drive me into exile. They tried it in 1992. It did not work. Even though I cannot be sure of the exact reason for the concerted effort to persecute me, I am informed by a well-placed woyane I know that the campaign of persecution against me is fully underway.
I do not believe this country belongs to a single bully [thug]. This land was built by my father and mother, grand-parents and great grand-parents. No one can force me into exile. No one can intimidate me and take away my rights as an Ethiopian. I won’t let it happen. Let me make it crystal clear [to the woyanes]: My life, the place I live and my death will occur right here [in Ethiopia].
Let me tell woyane and their minions one undeniable truth: If they commit illegal acts and crimes to victimize me, they should know that tomorrow they will face greater persecution and punishments. Those arrogant abusers of powers who believe they could be victorious by murdering should pause and think. One can gain victory through death. One can also triumph in death.
“Adafne” is a reflection of his own personal and professional experiences and his historical understanding and analysis of the factors that have contributed to the progressive decay and gradual downfall of a people and a nation with unparalleled history and civilization.
His mistreatment by the powers that be long predates his persecution by the T-TPLF.
In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, he faced persecution by a military thugtatorship called “Derg”.
When he refused to go along with the Derg’s crimes against humanity, they tried to scandalize his name.
The regime of H.I.M. Haile Selassie also harassed and threatened him throughout the 1960s. He was perceived as an intolerable irritant.
But he kept on speaking his mind even when the powers that be (Emperor Haile Selassie and his ministers and courtiers) did not want to hear anything he had to say.
He kept on marching on the long walk to freedom stepping to the beat of a different drummer. Himself.
I would venture to guess that he was a professional dissenter long before he was a university professor.
I can imagine the acronym P.D. (professional dissenter) after his name, for he lived the hard, onerous and intellectually lonely life of the dissenter always speaking his truth to users, abusers and misusers of and losers in power.
The powers that be wagged their index fingers at him, clenched their fist in his face and pushed and shoved him in and out of jail.
Like the indefatigable camel, he kept on walking. The dogs of state kept on barking and baring their teeth at him.
Prof. Mesfin kept on preaching, teaching, outreaching and impeaching.
In “Adafne”, he continues that tradition.
I have the highest respect for Prof. Mesfin as a scholar, a public intellectual, defender of Ethiopian history and a good and honest human being.
He does not play the popular games of duplicity, double-dealing and dirty tricks.
He says what he means and means what he says. He does not speak with forked tongue. What you see is what you get with him.
If you don’t like what he has to say, you can go straight to that famous place where it never gets cold.
I guess truth-telling makes the truth-teller very unpopular among those who live to lie and lie to live.
In my view, Prof. Mesfin is the single bright candle that has flickered undimmably for decades in Ethiopia against an enveloping dark sky of intellectual cowardice, political expediency and servile opportunism.
I should like to think of him as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Man Thinking”.
Emerson speaking of the American scholar at Harvard in August 1837 described the quintessential American scholar:
There goes in the world a notion, that the scholar should be a recluse, a valetudinarian, — as unfit for any handiwork or public labor, as a penknife for an axe… As far as this is true of the studious classes… action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it, he is not yet man. Without it, thought can never ripen into truth. Whilst the world hangs before the eye as a cloud of beauty, we cannot even see its beauty. Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action. Only so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not.
Prof. Mesfin is Ethiopia’s “Man Thinking”, the scholar with a heroic mind.
He was never a “recluse” or a “valetudinarian”.
He has been a man of action for nearly one-half century.
His thoughts and ideas spoken and written in truth have been his action.
I should like to think of him as greater than Emerson’s hero, “Man Thinking”.
I should like to think of him as Ethiopia’s “Man Writing”, “Man Speaking”, “Man Listening,” “Man Inspiring”, “Man Agitating” and “Man Dissenting”.
He fearlessly speaks his mind and the truth, his truth, not just to the users, abusers and misusers of power but also to the powerless, the power-hungry, the power-drunk anyone who cared to listen.
In “Adafne”, Prof. Mesfin, like Emerson’s “world’s eye”, shows that he is and has been “Ethiopia’s eye” preserving the greatness of Ethiopia’s past and passionately communicating that greatness not just to his fellow intellectuals (many of whom would rather gossip to him in private than be seen standing with him in public) but also to a new generation of Ethiopians disconnected from and ignorant of the greatness of their ancestors.
In “Adafne”, Prof. Mesfin reports what he has seen with his scanning “eye” on where Ethiopia and Ethiopians have been, where they are now and where they will or will not be in the future depending on what they choose to do today.
It is a book about his personal thoughts of an Ethiopia with a glorious past, an Ethiopia in political, social and economic turmoil today and the rise over the horizon of an Ethiopia whose best days are yet to come.
“Adafne” could be viewed as an amalgam of hardboiled historical and contemporary political analysis, a lamentation on the morass of moral depravity in which many Ethiopians find themselves and a cautionary tale of how to Ethiopians can save themselves from themselves.
The metaphorical title of the book has deep complexity with a multiplicity of senses and meaning.
The word “adafne” could be understood to signify the process of burying or covering up an object with earth or ashes.
It could refer to the extinguishment of a fire and left over embers by dirt or water.
It could refer to the sudden end of some activity in its beginning stages.
In Ethiopian military parlance, “adafne” is the name given to the portable recoilless antitank weapon commonly known as “Bazooka”.
In general, the word “adafne” refers to an object or a process that suffocates, chokes, asphyxiates, smothers, stifles and strangulates.
Prof. Mesfin uses the word “adafne” metaphorically to bludgeon, to accuse and to prosecute users, abusers and misusers of power in Ethiopia today and in the past with historical, political and philosophical truths.
He also uses the metaphor to challenge the powerless, the power hungry and the power-drunk to understand the enormous responsibilities that come with power and to strive and serve the people with integrity .
I find the hidden message of “Adafne” most compelling. (I am tempted to say he wrote “Adafne” as a memorandum to the younger generation today and coming generations.)
In “Adafne”, I hear Prof. Mesfin’s clarion call to Ethiopia’s youth warning them to beware and avoid the pitfalls of the present and past generations and redeem Ethiopia from the horrendous fate so many African countries have been condemned to live out by their ineluctable history, collective inaction and lack of visionary leadership.
Ethiopia’s youth should beware the monster of “Adafne” and avoid repeating the mistakes of their parents and ancestors or they will find themselves buried under a mountain of lies.
I sense he has a larger message to Ethiopia’s youth which could be stated in three simple propositions: Only you(th) can save Ethiopia from certain self-destruction. Only you(th) can save Ethiopia from the fires of tribalism and sectarianism. Only you(th) can save Ethiopia from Ethiopians of the past and present who have destroyed the social fabric, mangled the political structure and perverted the economic system and desecrated the spiritual well-being of the society.
“Adafne” is at once a “wholly African disease” most likely acquired during colonialism.
It has infected the continent and made it barren, unable to produce great men and women of character, wisdom, integrity and virtue.
“Adafne” has made the continent a basket of crabs. As one crab tries to climb out of the basket, the rest pull him down.
“Adafne” is also a disease of the mind. “Adafne” victims are inherently anti-freedom, anti-equality, anti-justice and anti-progress.
Put differently, for “Adafne” victims, freedom is only their freedom and equality only their equality. Justice is Just Us, and progress a bulging wad of cash in “Adafne”la-la-land.
“Adafne” is also tyranny personified. “Adafne” owns the land and minerals and gems hidden within it. “Adafne” owns the lakes and rivers. “Adafne” has god-like powers. “Adafne’s” wish is everybody’s command.
“Adafne” is Ethiopians’ sickness of the soul. “Adafne has made Ethiopia the land of chatterboxes first by suppressing truth, second by suppressing education and knowledge, third by closing down all means by which truth is propagated, fourth by hiring silver-tongued spinners of lies and fifth by closing all avenues for the publication and dissemination of ideas and knowledge.”
The “Adafne” triplets including siblings Fear and Failure in Ethiopia are evil personified, institutionalized, spiritualized, moralized and intellectualized.
I understand the metaphorical meaning of “Adafne” to signify the ultimate “destroyer” of a country in the same sense Robert J. Oppenheimer thought of the atomic bomb as the ultimate destroyer of humanity. Oppenheimer hearkening to the Hindu god Vishnu said, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
“Adafne” has become death, Ethiopia’s grim reaper.
“Adafne” is slowly squeezing the social, political, economic and spiritual life out of Ethiopia and its people.
“Adafne” is the destroyer of hope, of faith, of charity, of ambition, of promise, of honor, of dignity, of integrity, of virtue, of righteousness, of morality, of good will…. in Ethiopia.
“Adafne” can be destroyed only by knowledge. “Knowledge and education are the nemesis of adafne, and adafne the mortal enemy of knowledge and education.”
The impact of “Adafne” is most severe on the youth. “They are forced to lament the suffering of their fathers and mothers instead of taking pride in their ancestors’ achievements. Instead of engaging themselves with their Ethiopianity, the youth are encouraged to take pride in their narrow tribalism and sectarianism. The youth are disempowered and disabled from asserting their rights. They have lost their voice [and self-confidence].”
The “Adafne” triplets have caused a colossal systemic collapse and a structural debacle on a societal scale. It is that existential failure (mekshef) of Ethiopians as Ethiopians that Prof. Mesfin explores passionately in his book.
“Failure” in Prof. Mesfin’s analysis has a variety of manifestations. “Failure” could be the inability to complete or bring to fruition a societal project is “failure”. “Failure” could be missing one’s goal and unable to make progress. “Failure” could be the collective inability to pursue development and change.
Prof. Mesfin identifies three reasons for the “failure” (mekshef) of Ethiopia and Ethiopians: 1) Failure brought about by the dominance of governance systems unrestrained by the rule of law. The effect of that failure has been passive acceptance of tyrannical governments or voting with one’s feet and going into exile.
Second is the failure of Ethiopian intellectuals. The intellectuals and educated classes sold out to the powers that be, whomever they may be. With every regime, they behaved like the three monkeys named “Hear No Evil”, “See No Evil” and “Speak No Evil”.
The intellectuals and educated classes have failed to guide the powers that be to do right; they have failed to record their crimes and misdeeds of the powers that be for future generations; and worst of all, they have propagated the mistakes of the past for the future generations as the right and proper thing to do compounding their own mistakes.
The religious leaders have not fared much better as they have failed to provide spiritual guidance.
What is even more disheartening is the fact that ignoramuses in power today aspire to intellectual respectability by purchasing academic credentials from internet diploma mills. “To embellish and burnish their power, the ignoramuses in power buy bogus papers with official-looking seals and call themselves doctors, professors, government advisers and representatives of international organizations.”
In my view, what the ignoramuses fail to understand that it is not a piece of paper with acronyms that make a man or woman a great leader.
It is the vision, the mind and heart of the man or woman.
Bill Gates is a college drop out as are Steve Jobs and Mark Zukerberg.
Walt Disney dropped out of high school.
Abraham Lincoln finished only one year of formal schooling of any kind. I rest my case.
Third is the lack of role models for Ethiopians. Because there were not any successful countries around Ethiopia, Ethiopians have not been able to learn much about better governance and society.
“Adafne” is framed within a broader historical and socio-political context of Ethiopia. The book appears to posit a backdrop of grand values that have sustained Ethiopians for centuries.
“Adafne” and its siblings Fear and Failure (and their unspoken of cousin Fear O’ Failure) have spawned in Ethiopia a culture that has sapped the society of happiness, prosperity and compassion, and individuals of self-confidence and self-dignity.
What is the root cause of adafne and its siblings in Ethiopia?
I believe it is “FEAR” of a peculiar kind.
It is fear of the very idea of TRUTH.
Fear of thinking the TRUTH.
Fear of speaking the TRUTH.
Fear of hearing the TRUTH.
Fear of seeing the TRUTH.
Fear of living the TRUTH.
Fear of preaching the TRUTH.
Fear of defending the “TRUTH.”
It is also fear and distrust of each other. Fear of our consciences. Fear of doing the right thing. Worst of all, it is fear of ourselves and what we can do individually and collectively for ourselves and our country.
The “TRUTH fear-factor” in “Adafne” is directly responsible for the causation of a “political power failure”, an “educational failure”, a “cultural failure”, an “economic failure”, an “intellectual failure”, a “spiritual failure” and “moral failure” in Ethiopia.
Prof. Mesfin’s chronicle of the impact of the Adafne triplets in Ethiopia evokes deep sadness.
Together they have made Ethiopians a people who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The story of the “adafne” triplets can only be told anecdotally until Ethiopian scholars and intellectuals take the task of solemnly and earnestly documenting it for future generations.
Adafne was the bane that destroyed Ethiopian heroes like Ras Alula Engida (Aba Nega), the man feared by Europeans as “the Garibaldi of Abyssinia”.
Ras Alula wiped out entire Italian brigades at the Battle of Dogali in 1887. He defended Ethiopian sovereignty and dignity when the Europeans were scrambling for African colonies and slaves.
Ras Alula was betrayed by Emperor Yohannes who allied with the Europeans rewarded Ras Alula by giving him a position well below his rank. That very act opened the door for Italy to make incursions into the heartland. Adafne! A colossal failure of leadership and governance.
Fortunately, Menelik II taught the Italians a lesson they will not forget in 1896 at the Battle of Adwa.
Ethiopia is the only African country with its own alphabet, but it has been unable to use it to explore the frontiers of knowledge or to preserve the knowledge of our past in terms of agriculture, irrigation, architecture and transportation. Prof. Mesfin writes with some bitterness, “Knowledge is a tool of change. Knowledge is a necessary precondition for justice, equality and good governance … In Ethiopia, knowledge was not wanted (valued) in the past. That has not changed today…” Adafne! Another colossal failure of society.
During the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie a modern government system was established. “But Emperor Haile Selassie became the sole holder of power. The armed forces, police and security forces came under his direct control.” Haile Selassie became a tyrant and outlived his usefulness until he was overthrown by a military junta which became even more tyrannical and vicious. Adafne! A colossal failure of leadership and governance.
Ethiopia’s elite have long been divided between “heroes” (arbegnoch) who fought the foreign enemy and “collaborators” (bandas) who joined the foreign enemy to attack their own people.
Prof. Mesfin writes: “The children of ‘bandas’ in power today hide the shameful history of their treasonous parents. They are seen cringing and wincing by the mere mention of the shameful acts. They lack the confidence of true Ethiopian citizenship. They revise Ethiopian history to put themselves in the best light while distorting and mangling Ethiopia’s true history. For instance, they say Ethiopia’s history is no more than 100 years old…” They blacken Ethiopia’s true history to lighten up their own history fabricated in the workshop of their warped minds. In short, the history of the T-TPLF. Adafne! A colossal failure of history and historical analysis.
Little is written of the history of Ethiopia’s true heroes, those who shed their blood in the battlefield to preserve Ethiopia’s independence and sovereignty. The real heroes were treated like villains in peace time as the collaborators were treated as heroes and rewarded with title, positions and wealth.
Prof. Mesfin writes,
“Up to the present, the written history of true Ethiopian heroes is negligible. Little has been written of the patriotism and heroism of Dejazmach Geresu Duki, General Jagama Kelo, Shaleqa Beqele Weya.
[ I would emphatically add to the list the name of Dejazmach Kebede Bizunesh, a great Ethiopian patriot who not only whipped the Italians in battle time and again in the late 1930s a few miles west of Addis Ababa but also fought in his old age the Derg with valor and against all odds for nearly three years. So many unsung and forgotten heroes unknown to Ethiopians and known only to God. I am so proud and deeply grateful to all of them!].
It was necessary for the university to have a project to research, write and preserve for future generations the contributions of great Ethiopian patriots, to list them by name and identify the unknown patriots who fell in battle. But there are few who care about these patriots but preserving their history is not for their glory but the benefit of coming generations. Adafne! A colossal failure of Ethiopian scholars and intellectuals.
In “Adafne”, Prof. Mesfin replies extensively to critics of his earlier works (pp. 165-238).
A good many of the criticisms are directed at him personally. Few seriously challenge to his ideas or analysis.
That is understandable because few have the breadth of knowledge or forensic skills to debate him on the merits on Ethiopian history, politics and society.
They also criticize him for his forthrightness and iron-willed and uncompromising presentation and defense of his views.
That does not bother me because I do not believe the uncompromising, headstrong and principled defense of freedom and human rights is a vice.
But I am enlightened by the commentaries on Prof. Mesfin’s previous works and his cogent and well-reasoned responses.
I believe in the clash of ideas and vigorous debate. I hope there will be as much debate on “Adafne”.
I have written a reflection and not a book review in this commentary.
A book review is a form of literary criticism focused on the content, style and merit of a book.
I prefer to do a reflection because it allows me greater latitude of expression and provides me an opportunity to express my appreciation of Prof. Mesfin’s unique knowledge, understanding and interpretation of Ethiopian history, society and politics.
In “Adafne”, Prof. Mesfin reflects on his own childhood.
When he was a child and asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he would answer, “I will get educated and help my country.”
I thought the same thing in my childhood.
I would declare with certainty, “I will get educated in America and help my country.”
I believe that was the unquestioned credo of all young people in Ethiopia during my childhood.
I returned briefly to Ethiopia in 1975 to “help”.
When I looked around, it did not look to me that “they” wanted help from anyone.
The managers of the creeping military coup were helping themselves just fine.
I saw tanks rolling in the streets. I saw uniformed soldiers steering jeeps glued to mounted .50 cal machine guns. I saw military trucks criss-crossing the city loaded with armed soldiers.
I welcomed change; but soldiers replacing a monarchy?
That was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
I promptly high-tailed it back to the U.S. of A. and straight into graduate school.
For the first time, I met Prof. Mesfin in the spring of 1975 in Addis Ababa.
I doubt that he will remember it.
I went to meet him at a coffee shop close to the Ministry of Education with my uncle Prof. Aleme Eshete, the late noted Ethiopian historian and human rights advocate.
He asked me what I studied and my experiences in America. He wanted to know my observations about Ethiopia after being away so long.
I don’t remember exactly what I told him.
Both Prof. Mesfin and Prof. Aleme became involved in vigorous human rights advocacy in the years after the T-TPLF took power.
I believe Prof. Mesfin founded the Ethiopian Human Rights Council not long after the T-TPLF took power. Prof. Aleme established the Ethiopian League for Human Rights possibly about the same time. My memory on that is somewhat faded.
I am proud of the scholarly, political and human rights work Prof. Mesfin and Prof. Aleme have done. A future generation that has not failed will document their contributions as scholarly heroes of Ethiopia.
Truth be told, in reflecting on “Adafne”, I find myself to be one of those guys Prof. Mesfin talks about with deep sadness.
When I left Ethiopia in 1975, I vowed never to return. I had my personal reasons.
I had a clear and simple choice in 1975: Live free in exile or suffer under thuggish military tyranny.
I chose to live free.
Is choosing freedom over the tyranny of ignorant and barbaric military and bush thugs a moral crime?
Salmon Rushdie said, “Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”
Free speech is also what distinguishes the living from the dead and dying. Where there is no free speech, where free speech is not alive, there are only dead souls.
Prof. Mesfin stayed and continued to exercise his right to free speech.
As I like to say, I left Ethiopia but Ethiopia did not leave me.
When the late Meles Zenawi ordered the massacres of unarmed protesters in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, I had to stand up and speak up for the hundreds of dead and wounded in that massacre.
I have spoken up on behalf of those martyrs of Ethiopian democracy every single Monday for the last nine years.
But I was always inspired by Prof. Mesfin’s writings, blog postings and speeches.
I enjoyed watching Prof. Mesfin schooling that charlatan and intellectual poseur Meles Zenawi on the finer points of Ethiopian history and politics.
I delighted watching videos of T-TPLF minions shriveling under his withering analysis and logic.
Truth be told, I sometimes felt sorry for the T-TPLF minions who dared to challenge Prof. Mesfin in public debate.
He just crushes those ignoramuses with his prodigious recall of historical facts; he slices them with his razor sharp and lightening-fast wit; and dices them with his stunning logic. What an awesome sight!
I wish I could say I am familiar with much of his prodigious writings and analysis over the past decades.
I am not. That is my fault, which I hope to correct in the future.
But I am familiar with Prof. Mesfin’s research and studies on the geography and borders of Ethiopia. He led or was part of numerous scientific and field studies which will prove helpful in future challenges to the T-TPLF giveaway of Ethiopian lands to the Sudan and others.
The T-TPLF today rests comfortably in the knowledge that they have cut up and given away Ethiopian land to its neighbors for their own political ends and to fatten their bank accounts.
The T-TPLF has kept all border transactions secret as I have documented in previous commentaries.
But the time will come when in this generation or the next Ethiopia’s children will lawfully restore Ethiopia’s land back to Ethiopia.
What land we will get back will depend on the massive data and geographic evidence accumulated by Prof. Mesfin and his colleagues over the decades.
The T-TPLF can cut and sell our land all it wants but on judgment day, we will get back every inch of our blessed land thanks to the research and analysis Prof. Mesfin has done.
Let me note in passing that the sale, transfer, and so-called lease or whatever land deals the T-TPLF has made with Ethiopia’s land, I place that at the top of the greatest of Ethiopia’s failures.
I am certain in my view that the T-TPLF too shall pass for in the verse of William Cowper: “God moves in a mysterious way/ His wonders to perform;/He plans His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm…”
There is a mighty gathering storm. But the T-TPLF blinded by corruption and power cannot see it coming.
The T-TPLF should heed an old prophesy told in the lyrics of a song of African slaves in America: “God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign: No more water. The fire next time!”
In this reflection, I want to honor Prof. Mesfin.
I want to honor him as a true Ethiopian patriot-scholar.
Nelson Mandela said, “I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot.”
I regard Mesfin Woldemariam first and foremost an Ethiopian patriot-scholar.
I have great admiration and gratitude for his scholarly work and contributions over so many decades.
Emerson said, “The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation.”
The life of the scholar is not easy. It requires “long periods of preparation and study.”
The scholar suffers from knowledge of evil and the lack of knowledge of what to do about evil.
The true scholar stands in a “state of virtual hostility in which he seems to stand to society, and especially to educated society.”
The scholar is often the object of scorn and accusations.
For all this loss and scorn, what offset [for the scholar]? He is to find consolation in exercising the highest functions of human nature. He is one, who raises himself from private considerations, and breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts. He is the world’s eye. He is the world’s heart. He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism, by preserving and communicating heroic sentiments, noble biographies, melodious verse, and the conclusions of history.
I believe that has been the scholarly and public life of Prof. Mesfin. He has been persecuted, prosecuted and subjected to scorn and accusation.
What has been his reward? Love, appreciation, the gratitude of his compatriots. Perhaps?
I believe his true consolation has been his freedom to exercise the highest functions of his human nature. His freedom to speak his mind is his true consolation.
He has raised himself from private considerations and breathed illustrious thoughts on the Ethiopian public for decades.
He has become “Ethiopia’s eye”, “Ethiopia’s heart.”
He has been a true champion against the “vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism, by preserving and communicating heroic sentiments, noble traditions and lessons of history to his people.”
He has gone down into the secrets of his own mind fearlessly and in doing so descended into the secrets of the minds of tyrants, despots, dictators, thugs, con men and criminals garbed in the robes of power.
He has mastered his private thoughts and to that extent of all tyrants and thugs in power and speaks to them in the only language he knows: TRUTH.
In “Adafne”, Prof. Mesfin recounted a question he asked nearly five decades ago, which I will now put to him.
In the 1950s, there was a discussion at the university. At the end of the discussion, I asked one question: ‘Kenya has Jomo Kenyatta. Tanzania has Julius Nyrere… How come Ethiopia does not have a great man?’ One smart alec sheepishly answered, ‘We have Janhoy [H.I.M. Haile Selassie].” I got up and rebutted. ‘Janhoy was great by birth. What I am asking is an Ethiopian who has become great through his work and achievements. My answer today is the same. ‘We still don’t have a great man.’
I disagree wholeheartedly!
We have one great man.
His name is Mesfin Woldemariam, a teacher, a professional dissenter, a truth-teller, a protester, a nonconformist, a skeptic, an objector, an agitator, an intellectual rebel, a “Man Thinking”, a “Man Writing”, a “Man Speaking”, a “Man Inspiring”, a “Man Agitating” and a “Man Dissenting”.
George Orwell wrote, “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Well, I shall give Mesfin Woldemariam one last title: A truth-telling revolutionary!
As I reflect on the somber message of “Adafne”, I am comforted by Abe Lincoln’s words, a man who overcome far too many failures. “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”
I know we have failed miserably as Ethiopians. We have bad governance. We have thugs for leaders. We cannot feed our people. We have become the international poster country for famine. We fear truth. We fear each other. We fear ourselves. A few of us have voluntarily exiled ourselves. Far too many of us have been forced into exile.
Simply stated, we are a hot mess!
We have become “Adafne”.
It pains me to say that I have lost confidence in my generation and the one before mine. So, I will not speak now but will not hold my peace for too long.
It is to the younger generation of Ethiopians and to the coming generations that Prof. Mesfin records three simple questions:
Are you content with the failures of your parent’s generation?
Are you content with the failures of your grand-parents and great grand-parents generation?
Are you content with your own failures?
Such are the questions found on each page of “Adafne” in one form or another.
If there is one quintessential lesson to be learned by all Ethiopians from “Adafne”, it is a lesson long foretold by Shakespeare: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
Mesfin Woldemariam does not have to worry about such questions for he has lived the life of a hero, like his forefathers. He has used his pen, pencil and paper and his prodigious mind to fight not only ignorant thugs in power but also their cunning and calculating imperial masters abroad.
So I dedicate to Mesfin Woldemariam, Invictus verse from William Ernest Henley:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Thank you “Captain” Mesfin for all you have done, tried to do and hoped to do for the one and only love of your life, ETHIOPIA.