The rallies of the past weeks are healthy manifestations of citizens’ eagerness to see a better future. But the energy should be turned away from winner takes all mentality toward building a more prosperous nation, writes AMBESSAW ASSEGUED(firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Thursday before the big rally, reports of youth painting public squares with colours of the flag of their choice trickles in, and social media goes into full gear pacing every turn and twist as events develop around the city.
By the afternoon, rumours of scuffles, public property defacement and violence spread as taxis and buses disappear from parts of the streets. The Addis Abeba Light Rail Transit was nowhere to be seen, and private vehicles all but vanish, leaving the empty streets to pedestrians who hurried with quickened steps toward their destinations.
By nightfall, an eerie gloom descends upon the city, and the citizens spend a restive night only to wake up to a gloomy Friday morning where most shops have closed their doors, hotels barred their gates, a spattering of taxis and buses run, and police officers stand idly in groups and tentatively watch the deserted squares.
The day lapses into evening where almost everyone who could, even the hawkers and the beggars that normally crowd and pester the passersby have retreated into the bowels of the metropolitan; leaving only those who must move around by necessity and obligation to stroll the streets.
A wet and drizzly night passes with the city emptied of its life as in the days of the military curfew when all doors were shut early, and feral dogs and cats rule the darkened avenues and boulevards. And then, in the early hours of Saturday morning, the hum began to sound distantly, creeping like the rising waters of a flood and getting closer.
In the beginning, a lone group of carousing men on the backs of small trucks would pass by singing and harmonising, followed by a long silence before another group zooms by. Others will come along on foot, in clusters of thirty or fifty, singing and dancing in jubilant revelry and marching on their way toward Mesqel Square.
By daybreak, a steady stream of humanity in motion begins to flow, to swell and ebb, and to overtake the street. They sing harmonised melodies, keep rhythms by stumping and hopping on their feet; hoist and wave the flag of their affiliation; and march in unison past Qality, Saris Abo, Adey Abeba, Nefas Silk and the Riche neighbourhood.
They gush like a swollen river that rushes to its confluence, toward Mesqel Square, where they are to welcome the return of an exiled opposition leader, Dawud Ibsa.
The marchers are the faces of the aspirations – the promise of peace, freedom and prosperity – envisioned by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). Their trek is the affirmation of the nation’s strength to endure against fifty years of brutality by a military dictatorship; and the incompetence, corruption and abuse of power in government.
We are the lucky ones to be alive today to witness these spectacles. This is also a time of vigilance to protect our newly gained freedoms, resist those who stoke what is the worst in us and embrace those that bring out the best in us.
The rhetoric of violence is a well-trodden path by those who feed on our worst fears. We have seen what misery such rhetoric have brought upon innocent people.
Those who can offer nothing more than revenge for a presumed injustice and those who advocate conflict to exact revenge for the iniquities of the past have drawn the wrong lessons from history.
Europe and Japan, whose histories bear much resemblance to our own, have gone through periods of great brutality and bedlam only to emerge with the enviable position of peace, freedom and prosperity that they enjoy today.
We should emulate and learn from them on how to transcend and go past the yokes of backwardness into the age of enlightenment and prosperity that our nation deserves.
On the whole, the massive rallies that we witness in the capital and other urban centres are, indeed, the outpouring pent-up desire of the people to be free. They are healthy demonstrations to cast off the strangleholds of oppressors who, fearful of the anger that they face, lest it runs loose, clamour to choke it.
Yes, there is genuine anger and disillusion against those who abuse their power, fleece the national treasury, enrich themselves at the expense of the citizenry, practice nepotism against the interests of the nation, and unjustly act contrary to the common good.
There is mounting anger against the flawed policies of the government that has abrogated ownership of the land to itself and forced many out of their homes and communities on the guise of development. This policy has a hand in the conflicts that flare up now and then around the country.
Citizens of the nation have been rendered mere renters of the land by flawed land policies. They fare much worse than foreign investors who are granted leaseholds of the land under favourable commercial terms, and loose environmental and employment regulations.
How can the nation expect the citizens not to be angry in these situations?
Any claim or right that any of the citizens may inherently have over any piece of land, by bequest or purchase, have been rescinded by the state. The state has gone further and rendered identity as a function of language; rather than the natural and organic attributes of identity as a function of belonging to a specific territory or geography by birth and ancestry.
There are several other festering problems in the economy, in the justice system, in public policing and the civil structures that need to be addressed. Let us take a respite now from the marches to give peace a chance and turn our attention to building our much-neglected country.
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