Under the night sky in Addis Abeba, a well dressed Ethiopian woman requests the party organiser to play something more “Ethiopian,” despite distinct traditional instruments playing over electronic music.
We are continually assuring and reassuring one another of our Ethiopian identity or are in search of it. The woman asking for the music to be more Ethiopian was commenting on a genre of music named Ethiopiawi Electronic, with instruments featured from all over the country. Nothing could have been more Ethiopian. In retrospect, it was not something more Ethiopian that the woman was asking for but for something she was more familiar with.
Are we the same in our scope of understanding our own Ethiopian identity? Why do we feel the need to police one another in regard to it?
A friend once phoned me to let me know he is back home, but only for a few months.
I jokingly asked, “Have you abandoned us?” In a serious and reassuring voice, he answered, “I love Ethiopia”.
I was not questioning his loyalty or allegiance to the state, yet that is what he heard. My friend is not the only one who feels the need to defend his stand and connection to Ethiopia.
Who are we trying to reassure with our loyalty?
It is now as people are adamant about defining what the country means to them, one starts to evaluate what our identities mean as a separate entity not connected to the state. I feel we are fearful of who we are without the identity our country confers on us.
We have continually tried to gauge out what Ethiopia stands for. We have been attempting to determine the functions of religion in the state and create a shared history out of incomplete historical accounts. In fact, our religious practices and cultural heritage are so ancient; we have a hard time deciphering one from the other.
In a meeting I once attended with young Ethiopian professionals and some United States’ delegates, I was surprised at how fast a secret organisation known as the Illuminati came into the discussion. These were educated young people that when given the opportunity to ask questions about the United States and its political system resorted to mentioning obscure videos online and conspiracy theories. This should provide us with insight into what some of us look for when trying to learn in-depth about what a country represents.
Does our nationalism stem from defending the honour of our country in light of opinions of others who do not see it in the glory that we do?
People get on shaky boats and brave the Mediterranean Sea to escape from poverty – or a system that has not catered to their needs – in search of a better life. Others leave and do not return to their country because they feel unwelcome. Because their version of being Ethiopian is not accepted, they do not think they belong. They feel freer to be Ethiopian elsewhere.
A few friends of mine who went for education abroad confided in me, “I like Ethiopia, but I cannot deal with my family and everything that entails living there.”
They wanted to build themselves as individuals, and they could not imagine doing it in a place where they are constantly challenged.
The idea of questioning who we are as individuals is uncommon here. Yet, an individualist is more of an asset to this world and the nation. And that can only take place when individuals are given the opportunity to explore who they are.
The national identity does not only offer a challenge in our path to self-discovery, but it has also taught us that it is wrong. We are taught to conform, not question. Children are told moment after moment, what is not right and how not to do things. They are not left to discover as they are guided.
I am eager to see an Ethiopia that is more accommodating of others. As a country. It is people that make the state, and through time it is also the other way around.
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