Historical Rejectionism Bankrupts a Nation

It is nothing new to see that our activism fails to be centred around informative debates and contexts on essentially everything – from political history to the health of the economy. If there is any powerful characterisation that has defined the engagement so far, apart from the common hypocrisy, it is the chilling loss of common ground among those who want to control the past, because they want to dictate the present and the future on their terms.

This is not to say it is bad. It is only human to want to demean, ridicule and reject in order to control.

It is also a recent memory that the exclusivity shared by the chauvinist and rejectionist sides used to be short-lived and had a tendency for emotional bullying intended to gather populist sentiments where they existed. But that is a thing of the past now!

How the exchange of ‘rejectionism’ lingers into an identity check-list that baits and calls for boycotts is only suggestive of the haggle over history not just being about voicing prejudices or a genuine attempt at correcting wrongs. Rather, it is more of an acceptance by the activist elite that radical and insular interpretations of history are the defacto standard, defining our place inEthiopia’s history and how we see ourselves against the others.

The comfort enjoyed by the leaders of these camps is further legitimised by the silence of the majority, who have distanced themselves from their positions. The current scene reveals that national discussions have reduced themselves to hegemonic hate and boycott campaigners, opportunist-turned-historians and artist-nationalists whose idiotic insensitivity pulls even the most decent of minds into its bandwagon.

As the narratives crystallise into such a ridiculous entanglement, one can only wonder if there is any hope to bridge not just the divides of the past, but the seeds of discord nurtured today.

Screen writer Joss Whedon once said “half of writing history is hiding the truth”. The ethnicisation of our leaders’ legacies to determine their sainthood or depravity, and with it the umbrella bashing of people, could not have wished for a more fitting illustration.

The catchphrases from those who call each other supporters of their ‘‘camps’’ now makes one wonder that the EPRDF actually fares better than its supporters who clap out of a sacred obligation to do so and are more appreciative of diversity than its virulent opponents.

Let us face it, there is no such thing as genuine history. It is always a version of the writer or the victor who assumes power to edit and glorify.

Every leader who has ruled over the territory of this nation has had blood on his hands, unless we want to argue over numbers. What would have helped to improve the situation would have been to see thatEthiopiacould be made accommodating for the good deeds of its people and leaders. Their mistakes we always gloss over for the sake of affinity or affection.

For a reasonable observer, there is no need to demonise the EPRDF in order to praise Menlik for the great things he did for the nation. Equally, it is senseless to only highlight his misdeeds so as to respect the legendary heroism of  Yohannes. And it is an epitome of narrowness to downgrade Hailesilassie to an ethnic and regional enclave in order to respect the hard earned and visible accomplishments of the EPRDF.

Every regime, except the Dergue, has its share of good and evil. And every regime is and has always been guilty of a disgusting level of human rights abuse –  both at an individual and a group level.

Being fair to our history, therefore, means facing up to the fact that Tewdros II, Yohannes IV, Menelik II, Hailesillassie I and the EPRDF violated peoples’ choices and basic liberties to tighten their grip on power. Anyone who understands realpolitik and the nature of history knows that Menelik is not a renegade demon, as much as Tewdros and Meles were hardly saints.

They have all furthered their political ambitions, took back the nation in certain aspects and moved it forward in others. None of them achieved any of it by brotherly hugs and pats on the back.

I do take some offence with those who unreservedly defend Menelik as a gracious expander of the nation though I am generally grateful for the defence he mounted against a colonial aggressor (partly a result of his own reckless blunder) and his attempts at modernisation. But the question is, if one does not have a problem in passionately downplaying Menelik’s atrocities as ‘‘implementation mistakes under a noble cause’’, how come the same person could have no shame criticising the EPRDF as a total failure and innately ruthless?

Isn’t it plain stupid to celebrate Menelik with his regrettable mistakes, but to deny the EPRDF a fraction of your space for appreciation for all the milestones they have earned?

The question equally begs a response as to why the devoted supporters of the government find it easy to rally behind campaigns against everybody as worthless in history except Meles Zenawi and others from the EPRDF.

In a nutshell, it all sounds like the common retributive zero sum politics we have come to enjoy over the last few decades. But in a grander national sense, it will mean a nation that will have no heroes to capitalise on and learn from.

Heroes are respected only when people share a semblance of reconciliation and national inclusion to be willing to move forward. But then reconciliation can only come from a frank acknowledgement of ethnic based injustices, because a bolder move in recognition of injustice has shown itself not to represent a fall from grace for an entire leadership.

It would rather incentivise a mass willingness to build a nation that has learned from its mistakes. Confronting the misdeeds of our leaders should not be done as a political stunt. It should come out of a necessity that those who do not share our enthusiasm in history feel vindicated through disclosure.

No country in the world has had leaders who were characterised by kindness and a complete guidance by foresight. It is rather the case that they are humans with personal prejudices, biases and bad judgments. From Tewdros-II to Meles, modernEthiopiais a product of leaders whose impulses got the better of them, but whose wisdom in the nick of time assured the continuity of the nation as a strong state.

For those of us who play a combative dismissal of every legacy that marked the past and the boycott of those who praise them, let us be aware that we are wilfully growing into a culture of exclusivity and rejection that is as much hurtful and divisive as the past wrongs we claim to denounce. Through the way we are fighting over our chosen leaders, we have already taken down our heroes from their deserved national significance to condemn them into regional warlords.

We will have a select list of celebrities who hail from our communities of course, but they will never cross regional boundaries to become national icons. Those of us who are on the left and right, or who call each other this wing or that, should really get over ourselves and let the nation be bigger and better than our egos.


By Nolawi Melakedingel
Nolawi Melakedingel is a research fellow at the Institute of Peace & Security Studies. He can be reached at mnolawi@yahoo.com.

Published on December 29, 2013 [ Vol 14 ,No 713]



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