Thank you one and all who came out to the town hall meetings in the U.S. and Europe over the past several weeks and supported Semayawi Party!
In a report last week, Ethiomedia.com described Semayawi Party (SP) as the “newest opposition sensation” which “raises new hopes” for nonviolent change in Ethiopia. Yilikal Getnet, Semayawi Party’s young and dynamic chairman, presented Ethiopians in various U.S. and European cities his party’s vision of the Beloved New Ethiopia founded on hope, peace and unity.
Beginning with the first North American town hall meeting in Arlington, VA on December 15, 2013, Yilikal told his audiences that he did not come to the U.S. to solicit financial support or to beg for money. His primary mission was to introduce his party to Ethiopians living abroad, share with them his Party’s vision, positions and programs, review some of its humble accomplishment in the short time the Party has been in existence and most importantly to answer any and all questions about the Party. He did an outstanding job as the spokesman-in-chief of his Party. He answered all questions put to him without evasion or obfuscation. He addressed policy issues with thoughtfulness and insight. His presentations were complete with anecdotal and statistical facts. He awed his audiences with his razor sharp logic and spellbinding eloquence and wit. I am proud that I was able to stand beside Semayawi Party and Yilikal during this tour and show my unreserved support.
I thank all of those Ethiopians in the Washington, D.C. area, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Jose, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Seattle for their moral support and financial help to Semayawi Party. Thank you all; I am so proud of you!
On behalf of Semayawi Party Support Group North America, I thank all of those Ethiopians who showed up at the town hall meetings, listened attentively, asked challenging questions and gave generously. Most importantly, on behalf of Semayawi Party I thank all party members and active supporters who braved the rain, snow, sleet and gloom of night to attend the meetings and show their unwavering support. Your support has made all the difference.
When I asked Yilikal of his general impressions of his first ever U.S. tour, he was effusive in his gratitude and praise. He was awed by the passionate patriotism of the Ethiopians he met; he was deeply moved by their heartfelt concerns for the future of the country; and he is inspired by their advice and counsel to help Ethiopia’s youth. He is grateful not only for the extraordinary support Semayawi Party received in the U.S. in such a short time but also the respect, love and understanding he was shown by all.
Scenes from the tour
The Semayawi Party tour was at once an educational, inspirational, confirmational, exceptional and even emotional experience for all of us. For me, the tour represented memorable “moments of truth”. I had written and talked about Ethiopia’s youth and their historic destiny for so long that it was a dream come true to stand on the side of a political party (and in my view a youth movement) that is formed by youth, for the youth and of the youth. After all, 70 percent of Ethiopia’s population is today under the age of 35.
It was a special honor and privilege for me as a member of Ethiopia’s Hippo Generation (older generation) to work so closely with members of the Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation (younger generation). These young people were amazing. I marveled at the agility of their minds, dazzled by their insights and foresightedness, overwhelmed by their decisiveness in taking action, fascinated by their proficiency in the deployment of technology, awe-struck by their technical organizational skills and thrilled by their harmonious working relationships. I confess I thoroughly enjoyed my role as a full-fledged honorary Cheetah (though I regard myself to be a “Chee-Hippo”, a member of the intermediate generation whose job is to build bridges to connect the Cheetah and Hippo Generations) giving advice and counsel, consulting, answering questions and showing up wherever I was needed as a witness for Semayawi Party.
The one word that best describes our collective experiences in the Semayawi Party tour is “humbling”. We were overwhelmed by the passionate convictions of fellow Ethiopians who are determined to help birth the Beloved New Ethiopia that treats all of its citizens equally and respects the rights and dignity of each citizen. We were inspired by those who rejected all attempts to divide and dehumanize Ethiopians along ethnic, religious, regional and linguistic lines. We were grateful to those who schooled us on the mistakes of the past and showed us ways of avoiding known pitfalls. We were emboldened by those who assured us that we should never fear failure itself but the fear of failure which is paralyzing and incapacitating. We were comforted by those who promised and pledged to support us for as long as its takes so long as we continue the peaceful struggle for change. We were delighted by the curiosity of those genuinely interested in finding out about Semayawi Party.
We also experienced a few somber notes. We were saddened by the cynicism of some who had given up hope. “All of those who have come before you have failed. You probably will too”, they declared. We understood their disappointments. We were amused by the arrogance of others who thought the young people just did not know what they were doing and tried to lecture us on what should and should not be done. We did not mind. We are always ready to learn. We were engaged by the doubting Thomases. “We have seen them come and go? You don’t sound much different from the others. What makes you so special, so different?”, they would ask pointedly with slight derision. Doubt is the foundation of faith and we did all we could to convince them that the New Beloved Ethiopia will be built by Ethiopia’s young people, with the support of the older generation of course. We listened patiently and respectfully to those who bellyached, grumbled, moaned and groaned. They had legitimate reasons to do so.
We also learned a great deal about ourselves and what we must do. We had to defend and explain our mode of struggle. “How could you expect to win against a powerful regime with a proven history of barbaric brutality, with all the weapons of war and police and security forces?” Our response was the same as Gandhi’s “Strength does not come from physical capacity”, nor does it come from guns, tanks and war planes. “It comes from an indomitable will.” We have the indomitable will to press on with our nonviolent struggle. An indomitable will powered by love is invincible.
We preached that change must first take place in the hearts and minds of individual men and women before it can happen in society at large. We must therefore struggle with the demons of hate and revenge that have taken residence in our hearts before we can struggle with those who seek to demonize us. We are tolerant and respectful of those who disagree with our ideas, methods and means. In matters of principle, we shall always stand our ground. We believe in nonviolent social and political change. On this principle, we can agree to disagree with anyone without being disagreeable. We believe we should be judged on our own merits, and not on the achievements or mistakes of others. We are keenly aware that we must practice what we preach. That means we must maintain the highest standards of accountability, transparency and civility. We know our supporters expect us to be different, show more integrity and forthrightness and be open minded. We shall aim to practice these virtues in our daily lives.
The struggle ahead: Ethiopian David against the TPLF/EPDRF Goliath
The struggle for nonviolent change in Ethiopia will be a difficult one requiring great sacrifices. We are not unmindful that the regime will do everything in its power to weaken and destroy Semayawi Party. We take it for granted that the regime in power in Ethiopia today will arrest, jail, torture, conduct kangaroo trials and kill Semayawi Party members. To predict regime persecution of Semayawi Party persecution is like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow. We know the regime’s standard operating procedure for the last 23 years. Semayawi Party leaders and members are not afraid. They are not afraid of goons with guns. There is a new breed of young Ethiopian leaders on the rise and unafraid of thugs clad in the stolen mantle of state power. Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie, Olbana Lelisa, Bekele Gerba, Abubekar Ahmed and so many others languish in the infamous Meles Zenawi Prison in Kality because they refused to be intimidated and bullied by the regime in power.
Those of us committed to nonviolent change in Ethiopia struggle to win the hearts and minds of all Ethiopians. We measure our victory by the number of people we are able to convince to choose the path of peaceful change. Those in power measure their victories and how powerful they are by the number of Ethiopian corpses they can scatter on the battlefield. I believe the outcome of this struggle was foretold and foreordained long ago. There was once a mighty man called Goliath. Clad in armor of iron and brass, Goliath would strut over the hill day after day and terrorize the people. Feared by all, no one would dare challenge Goliath. Then came a meek young shepherd named David who feared no one but God. David decided to fight Goliath not for the rewards of gold, silver or riches but to restore the pride, dignity and faith of his people. David was offered a sword, spear, armor and an iron helmet. He chose to fight Goliath with a sling and five smooth stones. Goliath huffed and puffed and taunted little David to come out and fight him. David met Goliath and Goliath was no more.
Semayawi Party is Ethiopia’s David standing up to a fearsome and loathsome Goliath known as the TPLF/EPDRF. Semayawi Party stands up against the mighty TPLF/EPDRF Goliath armed to the teeth with guns, bombs, tanks, artillery and warplanes. Semayawi Party stands against a Goliath with a legion of repressive police and security cadres unrivalled in Africa today. Semayawi Party stands against a Goliath backed by billions of dollars of international aid money, loans and stolen cash from the people. Semayawi Party stands against a Goliath in whose blood courses the poison of hate and division, in whose mind circulates falsehoods and deceit, in whose spirit dwells despair and misery and in whose heart darkness itself lives and breathes.
Semayawi Party is poised to fight the TPLF/EPDRF Goliath armed only with a sling and five smooth pebbles called Love, Truth, Hope, Peace and Unity. In the end Semayawi Party will win against the TPLF/EPDRF Goliath; and Goliath will be saved, saved indeed, because Semayawi Party’s pebbles do not kill; they only heal. It is an honor for me to be the water carrier for Ethiopia’s David standing up to the TPLF/EPDRF Goliath.
Let’s give Semayawi Party a chance, a fighting chance
It was a distinct honor and privilege for me to be the “keynote speaker” at the various Semayawi Party town hall events. I did not consider myself a “keynote speaker”. I showed up as a volunteer “witness”. I became a witness to ask, and hopefully to convince, Ethiopians in the U.S. to give Semayawi Party a chance, a fighting chance, a sporting chance as it struggles to stand up to the TPLF/EPDRF Goliath.
I wholeheartedly support Semayawi Party because I believe Ethiopia’s young people are the only ones with the vision, energy, intelligence and passion to change the destiny of their country and build the New Beloved Ethiopia. Today, 70 percent of Ethiopia’s estimated 94 million people consists of young people under the age of 35. The vast majority of the victims of human rights violations in Ethiopia today are young people. The targets of political persecution and harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, abuse and maltreatment in the prisons are largely young people. Young Ethiopians are disproportionately impacted by pandemic unemployment and lack of educational and economic opportunities. The yearning of Ethiopia’s youth for freedom and change is self-evident. Change, peaceful change, will come to Ethiopia but it will be like the arrival of train that is late. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means.”
For the past eight years, I have tried to make a small contribution to the human rights struggle in Ethiopia. It is a responsibility I took much later in life. I have no greater honor than to hear Ethiopian Cheetahs and Hippos telling me that they have learned something from my weekly commentaries or speeches. What more can a teacher ask?
In the past I have asked, urged and pleaded with my readers to support the cause of human rights and the dignity of the individual. Now, I ask, actually I plead, with my readers to support Ethiopia’s young people and Semayawi Party which I believe represents the interests of the young people more than any other party in existence today.
I do not want my readers to support Semayawi Party not because I support them, but because they deserve support on their own merits. When I decided to support Semayawi Party, I asked a few questions: 1) Do I truly believe in nonviolent social and political change? 2) If I truly believe in nonviolent change, who do I believe is best positioned in Ethiopia today to effect such a change? 3) If the young people can effect such a change, what can I do to help them?
We can all help Semayawi Party in the Ethiopian Diaspora in a variety of ways. Those with means can help financially to the extent of their abilities. Semayawi Party needs a lot of financial help to do its organizational work and to sustain its outreach efforts. There are other equally important ways we can provide support to Semayawi Party. Learning about Semayawi Party and educating others is valuable support. Providing Semayawi technical support in all areas including policy analysis and development is vital, and Ethiopian scholars and academics could play a critical role in this regard. Spreading Semayawi’s message of hope, unity and peace is more important support than any other form of support. Defending Semayawi against false accusations and fear and smear campaigns is invaluable support. Giving moral support and inspiring Semayawi Party leaders and members to greater heights is priceless. Cheerleading for Semayawi is support that every patriotic Ethiopian could perform every day.
On a personal note…
It was an amazing experience for me to work with the young people in the Semayawi Party support groups. For so many years I have sought to teach, preach and reach out to Ethiopia’s young people in my weekly commentaries and occasional speeches. I am delighted to serve in the capacity of advisor to the young professionals, business entrepreneurs and university students doing the heavy lifting for Semayawi Party stateside. The proliferation of support groups for Semayawi Party throughout the world rekindles my belief that Ethiopian Cheetahs united can never be defeated.
I want to share a few personal observations about Semayawi Party chairman Yilikal Getnet. Over the past eight years, I have met many Ethiopian political, business and community leaders in one context or another. Many of these leaders have impressive qualities. I consider character the most important quality in any political leader.
Yilikal is a young engineer who has given up on his professional ambitions and subordinated his family’s interest to work for nonviolent change in Ethiopia. It takes great character and personal integrity to make such a choice. I observed different aspects of Yilikal’s character during the tour. He proved himself to be a man of principle. He was challenged that his nonviolent way idealistic and doomed to fail. He argued convincingly that violence is the weapon of the weak. No one can change hearts and minds by force and violence. He was challenged to tow the politically correct line that Ethiopia must remain a collection of klililistans (kilils) and the only rights that matter are the rights of “nations and nationalities”. He convincingly defended the principle that when individual rights are respected and preserved, group rights are necessarily protected and preserved. He was challenged that the brutal regime could persecute him, jail, torture and kill him and others in the party leadership . He was unafraid because he and other Semayawi Party leaders formed their party ready to do the right thing and make any sacrifices for their country and fellow Ethiopians.
When Yilikal was lectured and hectored that Semayawi Party was creating divisiveness by separating the young and old, he categorically denied such allegations. As a matter of principle, he made it clear that there has to be a generational division of labor. The older generation of Ethiopians could play a decisive role as advisors and supporters while the younger generation did the heavy lifting and suffered the street beating and jailing. However, only the Cheetahs have the will power, stamina, fortitude, energy and creativity to bring about lasting change. I said, “Amen!” Yilikal was chastised for not “uniting” his party with others to oppose the ruling regime. He said his party works and coordinates with other parties but there are fundamental differences in policies, strategies and tactics that make “unity” challenging. He wondered why the rest of us in the Diaspora who urge opposition unity inside the country are unable to teach by example by uniting and working together against the regime on the outside.
There is one quality that I appreciated most in Yilikal, his humility. Yilikal is a young man of small physical stature. He has on more than one occasion commented on the fact that he is somewhat vertically challenged. In reality he is truly a humble giant. He showed genuine respect and appreciation to all those he met. He listened attentively and patiently to them. He showed restraint and good judgment even when asked deliberately provocative questions. He never lost his cool and told it like it is when it comes to the truth. He never presented himself as a “party leader” or someone special. He was easily approachable and showed candor in his public and private dealings.
I appreciated Yilikal’s sense of humor. As we toured the various sites, I tried to convince him that there were indeed Cheetahs and Hippos populating the town hall meetings. Looking from the stage into the audience he could only see younger Cheetahs sitting next to older Cheetahs. He wanted me to point which ones were the Cheetahs and Hippos. I could not. There were only older Cheetahs sitting next to younger Cheetahs. I learned an important lesson. Being a Cheetah or a Hippo is as much a state of mind as a state of being. Thank you younger and older Cheetahs for coming out and supporting Semayawi Party Cheetahs!