It was as though two people inside me were arguing with each other as I was heading to attend the monthly debates on the arts at the historic Hager Fikir Theatre. It was a Monday afternoon with an unusually bright sun and blue sky for the rainy days. As I was passing by the square in Piassa dedicated to late French President Charles De Gaulle, what he said while ordering pardon for Jean-Paul Sartre cliqued my ears: “You don't arrest Voltaire.” It was a preparation for the type of event I would attend.

I was contemplating whether to go, given that the discussion was about whether enough has been done to unravel the murky, mysterious and infuriating disappearance of Be’alu Girma, author of "Oromay," four decades since, and whether art is the appropriate field to be so involved. It was hardly surprising that it turned out to be more about the man touted as unparalleled for breaking new ground in Amharic fiction writing. It ended with a fallout with a regime for allegedly misusing access to the unfolding of political events and portraying many important officials as caricatures.

It is true that we are tired of never-ending, merry-go-round conspiracy theories. It even left me undecided for a while, not sure what good comes out from the story of another spinmeister. No doubt, the search for the guilty party needs to be encouraged at all costs, yet objectivity need not be compromised, thus avoiding naming for the sake of naming, given the highly repressive and secretive environment that prevailed at the time.

But it was worth attending such gatherings to memorialise a man whose fate went unsolved and thus accord him with a living display of orations of praise for his achievement. As I approached the meeting hall, I reminiscence about Bertolt Brecht, who used to be amazed by our, as human beings, insensitivity to all that war brought to humanity. His scathing tirade has always been unheeded. All the whys about the sensitivity of the anti-war issue that reportedly forced Brecht to change countries in his time makes us ask why Be’alu did not consider such a move.

It also brought a distant memory from my early years attending Tsegaye Gebremedhin’s adaptation of “Mother Courage” as “Enat Alem Tenu,” pondering how astray it went from its central theme, almost to the point of having nothing to do with it. What if it was not so? Would the bad luck to follow Be’alu Girma’s fate also befall him?

As I struggled not to fret out with the insufficiency of works so far done, unearthing what exactly happened to this great journalist and writer, I was somehow reassured by the opening remark. It was a sympathetic, engaging and beautifully observed account of the author’s life. Be’alu would have been proud.

Apart from the continuing debates in the artistic sphere, there is an upcoming play to reminisce over the author’s life. It is further hoped to amplify the appeal for this most recondite national issue. Such endeavours enable an amazing breakthrough and ensure against the hurly-burly of hysteria. Knowing about the lives of authors breathes fresh air to advance our literature and promote Bealu’s anti-war stance.

It became clear by the end of the debate that the endeavour had not had the success it deserved. A variety of ideas about the state of the arts were articulated through scholarly thoroughness. Finally, the debate ended, signifying Be’alu’s continued relevance by evoking a melancholic mood in complex sociopolitical circumstances and times. So much is yet to be done unearthing one of the country’s most imaginative and bold authors. The hard work continues.

PUBLISHED ON Aug 13,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1163]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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