A couple of weeks ago, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was asked his views about the intention of certain opposition forces to usher his government to the negotiating table. The reply he gave to the reporters was so interesting that I borrowed it to write this article. In a tone free from the contempt of executive power, he said “that is just a dream”.
Everybody has the right to dream. But when he rises up, he will discover that the dream was nothing but a dream.
The issue of dreaming can be placed within a historical context. The reign of Emperor Tewedros was noted for laying the foundations for a central government, picking up the pieces to form a territorial sovereignty capable of defending itself against foreign aggression. Tewedros had a dream of making his country innovative by establishing a technical centre at Gafat, where he ordered the foreign detainees to make the first arsenal – Sebastopol.
Emperor Menelik too had many dreams for his country. Apart from uniting the fragmented country and making attempts to form a strong central government, Emperor Menelik introduced modernity to Ethiopia to an unprecedented level. His victory at the battle of Adwa, in particular, was monumental and had far-reaching impacts.
Emperor Haileselassie too had his dreams. His dreams were not hollow. He continued to build on what were started by his predecessors.
His special aspirations were expressed by giving the greatest value to human resource development. He took the portfolio of the minister of education personally.
Ethiopia only had limited financial resources. But it had established some of the best high schools in the region, from where competent graduates were sent to some of the best universities in England – Oxford University, London School of Economics and Cambridge University.
In the meantime, the Addis Abeba College was established in the country. Other students were sent to the USA to study in the top universities, like Harvard, Yale, Perdue and others.
We had scholars, like Asrat Woldeys (Prof.), who earned honorary membership to the British Royal Medical Academy.
People like Yilma Deressa and Bulcha Demksa were among the African financial experts reputed for worldwide prominence. In the engineering field, scholars such as Kibebew Belehu, Yohannes Menkir, Gataneh Muda, Beyene Desta, Betru Admassie and Girmaw Ingidayehu were only but a few. Laureate, Tsegaye Gebremedhin; artist, Afework Tekle; Gabrekirstos Desta; Addis Alemayehu and other such scholars were some of the manifestations of those dreams coming true.
Organisations, like the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), the Ethiopian Civil Aviation, Ethiopian Airlines and the Imperial Highway Authority, were among the leading enterprises by standards south of the Sahara.
As the population grew, these undertakings could not stand up to the growing demands. University students took to the streets of the capital and carried slogans like “Land to the Tiller”; “Bread for the Hungry” and “Education for all”. Such abstract terms as public governance or democratic rights for all were held high.
Some of these demands were galvanised by the international exposure to foreign ideologies and theories that had already divided the world into two camps – the socialists and the capitalists. That was quite unfortunate.
All of those dreams were foiled and terror reigned. The terror even had colours, such as the white terror and the red terror. Thousands of young intellectuals were gunned down.
Our dreams of progress fell into the hands of mundane elites who tried to redefine the concept of democracy by prefixing vague adjectives, like revolutionary, liberal and what have you. Red books carrying a virus of disintegration and mob ruling were smuggled into the country. Youngsters saw the old rule as archaic and outdated.
What took over 100 years to piece together to form a respected united Ethiopia took less than 30 years to disintegrate. Ethiopia was rendered landlocked and subservient to neighbours with ports.
When talking of dreams, Nelson Mandela of South Africa comes to mind. He did not dream of black supremacy in his country where only five percent of the population was white. He fought for the equal rights of all.
He had to spend 27 years behind bars to realise his dreams. In the famous “I have a dream” speech of August 28, 1963, in Washington D.C, at the statue of President Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King (PhD) told of his dreams loud and clear. That was before some of our present leaders were even born.
In a melancholic and deep voice, Luther articulated that although slavery was abolished by law over 100 years before, colour segregation, poverty, inequality and denial prevailed. But he proclaimed that he had a dream that one day the nation would rise up.
Almost half a century later, America elected its first black president, Barack Obama.
There could be hurdles on the way and it might take time, but dreams can be realised in the end, so we keep on dreaming until one day we rise up from our dreams to see a country free from poverty, disease and ignorance. That one day, the children of our nation will walk hand in hand, along the road of equality, regardless of ethnic differences, faith and class.
We shall wake up from our dreams to take our rightful place among African nations able to work together for the realisation of the ideals of our forbearers and realise the unity of the continent in every aspect. There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, at least judging by the historical irony that Ethiopian forces, once engaged in war with neighbouring Somalia for half a century, are now sacrificing their lives to keep the peace there.
Ethio-Eritrean peace talks could be hovering in the air much sooner than we think. I think and hope that both countries realise that it is about time that we drew out a framework of peace talks and prepared a list of issues to be discussed.