Value Your Life

Jul 20 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele

One of the most perceptive and persuasive advertising campaigns run in Ethiopia was the “value your life” ads that were run by DKT Ethiopia in the 1990s. The campaign was trying to educate primarily young people to use condoms to protect themselves from the HIV virus that was decimating the youth in the country at an alarming rate. The genius of it was the fact that it had correctly diagnosed the underlying cause of the risky behaviour of the youth at the time, instead of focusing on the superficial outward symptoms.

The root cause of the problem at the time was that a lot of young people in Ethiopia were feeling hopeless. Life was hard. There were no jobs. They were seeing little prospect of their future getting any better any time soon. In this bleak situation, the only thing they could do was to try to attain as much fun as they could, tomorrow be damned. They put so little value on themselves that they engaged in behaviour that they knew was putting their lives in danger.

The rapid expansion of the economy, the construction boom and the mushrooming of higher education institutions in the early 2000s started to lift the gloom. There was a brief time of relief and even excitement in the air. Entrepreneurship was budding. Young people were suddenly beginning to dream of starting their own business, improving their lives and helping their families. Business was the dominating feature of young life. They were occupied with more constructive endeavours.

Not so these days. With the cooling of the economy, and in tandem with rising unemployment, the dark days of hopelessness seem to be returning. So is destructive behaviour.

But this time around, the destructive behaviour is not limited to suicidal reckless partying. It now includes committing acts of violence under the cover of political action. Burning and looting with little respect for the lives or property of others. Not only killing but dying senselessly.

No amount of political rhetoric can give cover to the underlying nihilism of the senseless acts of violence that are being committed daily. Murdering one’s roommate on campus does not make one a freedom fighter by any stretch of the imagination. Burning a neighbour’s house, no matter who they are or where they come from, can never be a political act. Looting the neighbourhood kiosk is vandalism. It does not make one a liberator. The kind of wanton destruction being committed with reckless abandon signals a deep fissure in the value system of society. Only people who do not value their lives can be this careless about snuffing out the lives of others.

What is more depressing is that there are political leaders that cynically and heartlessly manipulate the availability of this army of disaffected youth. A good commander will always take pains to come up with a strategy that will bring them victory with the least amount of causalities possible. A leader who only counts battles won, with no regard to the lives lost to get it, is not a leader. He is a narcissist.

These days there is a clamour by political leaders to take credit for victories won, however that is defined. But there is little talk about the sacrifices paid in young lives to get it. There is almost no reflection, or debate, about whether whatever was achieved could have been arrived at with less sacrifice. Most of those who are now basking in the limelight have never faced the barrel of a gun. A lot of those who did are silent forevermore.

The question that keeps real leaders awake at night is the loss of the lives of those that put their trust in them. The nagging problem, whether a victory was worth the sacrifice paid, never leaves them. They forever struggle, second-guessing themselves, whether goals could have been accomplished with fewer causalities. That is what keeps them humble.

That is why the casual boastfulness of political leaders on the scene today alarms me. The lack of patience to achieve political goals without reverting to violence is disturbing. I am afraid it is a sign that their political calculations lack one variable – the lives of their followers. They are betting that in a country that is overflowing with disaffected youth, they don’t have to worry about that.

The message to the young people of Ethiopia today is that they should protect themselves from the new political virus, violence. You should value your lives.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 20,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1003]

Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement.

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