April 24 , 2021
By Christian Tesfaye ( Christian Tesfaye (email@example.com) is a researcher and Fortune'sOp-Ed Editor whose interests run amok in the directions of both print and audiovisual storytelling. )
There used to be a narrow and dusty road right in front of Addis Abeba City Hall, aka Mazegaja Bet, in Piassa. It has been under construction for a while, and now nearing completion, it has already eased traffic and cleaned up the look of the area. Standing there, one can also get a pleasing view of Churchill Avenue to Tewodros Square. The skyline of Addis looks more complete, as opposed to the skeletal and unfinished buildings that dot most of the capital.
That is where I had asked a driver from a taxi-hailing company to come and pick me up. After a greeting, we began our trip. He then said this:
“What they have done with this place is amazing,” he began. “But what is the use when we have no peace?”
Ethiopia’s poor state of circumstances has become a conversation opener. There is not a topic that people talk about but doom and gloom. Nothing else dominates. Our thoughts have grown dark and oppressive. Most of us have a hard time sleeping. We are angry, frustrated, and terrified of what the next day will bring. We are not even uncertain anymore – it is as if we are fatalistically entering the abyss, never to return. If we were not such a poor country, there would have been a Xanax epidemic.
No wonder then, that every commentator, being as mediocre as they are, appears now and then to point this out to us, as if we have missed the unique nature of our crisis – as if we have somehow failed to see how much pain and suffering is being exacted on people in several parts of the country.
The commentary we are getting could be headlined: “It is bleak” and “total war is afoot,” as if we had not just spent the previous night sleeplessly worrying about the things we see and hear about. It is like a physician telling a patient that has just had their leg amputated that they would have a hard time walking.
"You don't say, Doc!"
What we instead needed from our elite class was assurance; that all effort and energy would be expended to avoid the loss of human life; that they would never allow a difference of opinion to be a cause for armed conflict. What we needed were moral leaders that insist that no cause – none – deserves a human sacrifice. Instead, what we have received from the elite is a declaration of what we already know (that we find ourselves in a state of great suffering) and loud, angry calls for violent responses for every injury inflicted.
How can we then force ourselves to wake up each day? What is the purpose if it is all going to end? Why keep going on? What do we tell our children? And what moral purpose do we take out of this?
It is easy to feel overwhelmed, dejected, angry, cynical and morose in times of such hardship. It is our natural biological response to the perception of danger, especially when 'flight' is not an option. It is harder to find a silver lining, hold dearly onto hope and trust in the human spirit to find meaning in suffering and dare to transcend it.
To double-down on our optimism, in the inherent goodness of our neighbours and fellow citizens, would require of us great courage. Otherwise, terror wins. What makes acts of cruelty by the few, especially against those vulnerable, so destructive is that they inspire the worst in the majority of us. To refuse to be defined by this – and to rebuff that our motivation for action be the barbarity of others – will be our greatest victory. It will require all of our will and the recognition that societies have been through so much worse and come out of it the stronger for their experiences.
Even in the worst of circumstances, the human spirit has found purpose and meaning. A friend recently shared a quote from one of the poetry books by Limn Sisay, “Gold from the Stone.”
“How do you do it?” said night. “How do you wake and shine?”
“I keep it simple,” said light. “One day at a time.”
Indeed, one day at a time. We can also give to charity and the needy; be our compatriot’s keeper. Take a walk, perhaps even hike and meet people, preferably those outside our usual social circle. Unplug sometimes and reduce exposure to news about politics. We do not need to scroll through social media every few minutes or scrounge for the news every single hour.
Surely, some will read this and consider me naive and too privileged to comprehend the full scale of what is going on - though there will be too few to have the luxury to be like this in today's Ethiopia. Perhaps I am. But it takes very little to be cynical. At least I dare say that, if we will it, it will all be okay. Our destruction is not inevitable.
PUBLISHED ON Apr 24,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1095]
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