Beware the ‘Greeks’ Bearing Gifts

Following the olive branch afforded opposition parties by the ruling coalition, activists and politicians have been flooding the nation. Although it is a positive development to allow all and sundry to participate in the nation’s politics, it is crucial to scrutinise just what exactly they have come bearing, writes AMBESSAW ASSEGUED(

They are the foil characters of the Ethiopian political drama; the puffs of smoke that bellow after the gun is fired and the shell discharged from the barrel; the aftershocks of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) phenomena, the tectonic shift that has forever altered the nation’s path and destiny.

They are the actors in supporting roles to the protagonist, Abiy, with whom the nation is smitten, sympathizes and identifies.

They are the diaspora personalities of Ethiopia’s past and present who have recently entered the political space opened by Abiy, the unrivalled leader around whom the nation has rallied.

On a recent morning, a contingent of men and women appear at Menelik Square aboard pickup trucks, tailed by a collection of ragtag taxis and private cars, honking horns, waving the Ethiopian flag and shouting patriotic slogans.

The crowd around the square crane and tussle to find out what is going on when it soon emerges that the hubbub is the work of those who are accompanying a person who has just arrived from the diaspora that morning.

As if the advance battalion of a conquering army has captured the city centre, the group jumps off the back of the trucks and emerge out of the vehicles and occupy the square; unfurl plastic banners and hang them haphazardly around the fence; and stake out positions waving the tri-coloured flags and stand resolutely facing a bewildered crowd.

One of them, dressed in the fashion of the patriots that stood against the Italian Fascists almost eight decades ago, holds and waves in one hand a cardboard-cutout gun and twirls it threateningly toward traffic that grinds to a halt by the commotion.

Now, the man circles the square strutting, squats and jumps around; now, he kneels and aims the paper shotgun at an imaginary enemy; now, he dances as he recites and croons the ancient battle cries; and now he whirls around and growls fiercely at the curious spectators who have gathered along the edges of the street peering intently toward the square.

By this time the buses, taxis, cars and pedestrians who have endured the disruption for about half an hour are furiously blowing on their horns, ramping up their engines and gesticulating in utter frustration and fury.

Amid the chaos, the honoured guest is brought out of a vehicle and delivers a brief speech that can only be heard by his own supporters that stand close to him, but apparently fails to make the intended impression dwarfed by the pandemonium of blaring horns and roving motors of the stranded drivers.

The police, who have stood idly at first as events unfold, finally gather the strength and courage to advance and intervene. They manage to disperse the crowd from the square and free the tightly bound traffic to flow normally again.

Scenes of welcoming rallies and gatherings, and the passage of a parade of diaspora personalities making speeches and appearances have temporarily overwhelmed the city. The main topic of discussions and conversations in bars, cafés, homes and the news have been dominated by events and rallies held by these men and women.

“The compromised, the fibbers and the ambitious are all flocking in,” observes a disgruntled old man to a group of his friends sipping coffee at a café in the square.

Most of his friends, old men who have witnessed the passage of three regimes, express ambivalence if not outright disdain towards the newfangled cast of players in the political arena. That ambivalence is also shared and expressed by many in the city.

“It is important to give them space to vent their opinions now. That will keep the lighted candle from being snuffed out,” observes one of the old men addressing his friends and reflecting the general mood in the country.

Abiy has attained the primal position of a national leader with humility, and he is unimpeached by a history of corruption or maleficence. Although vying for a bit of air, space, a voice or just to be noticed in the current drama, it may be hard for others to match the virtues of a man endowed with simplicity and genuine oratory style.

Abiy seems to anticipate where the nation’s heart aches and he strikes a note of healing where it hurts them most. He soars past the agenda of revenge, invectives and retributions that seem to have frozen others, but instead acts to correct the wrongs that have most angered his fellow citizens.

He talks and acts seem to be borne out of sincerity, without the egos and ambitions that have complicated the messages of others. He wields his authority with the confidence of a man who has a purpose and a mission, uncluttered by personal concerns and interests.

He has eased into the confidence of the nation by doing the ordinary, by joining in the festivities and sorrows of the people, by visiting the injured and the poor, and by carrying his emotions on his sleeves as we all do – tough acts to follow by personalities seeking the limelight and enamoured by adorations.

Nonetheless, it is important to keep the candle lit by the Prime Minister from dimming and going out. It is imperative to allow these personalities to the stage, but it is necessary to guide them to partake in the dialogue of nation building – the task that is at hand today – and keep Ethiopia on a trajectory of peace and prosperity.

Since unfettered speeches, opinions and rants advance nothing, it is proper and timely to chaperon the contingent of politicians, activists and personalities arriving from the diaspora toward consensus-building for a national agenda.

It is proper and prudent for them to start preparing programs and solutions to tackle the nations environmental, social and economic ills.

The politics of rhetoric only greases the ego without advancing solutions towards the problems that afflict the citizenry and affect the country. The urban centres are awash with trash; our rivers are polluted; the citizenry has been rendered landless by flawed land policies; the natural resources of the nation are squandered; the youth wonder listlessly for want of a future; the institutions are week and corrupt; the justice system unjust; the civil service unskilled; and the police untrained.

The arrival of personalities from abroad must not turn out to be a Trojan Horse that Cassandra warns the people of Troy, “Beware the Greeks, even when they bear gifts.”


Published on Sep 15,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 959]



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