My father used to always respond with this one rejoinder during my youth every time I came home and complained about some injustice that I felt was done against me. So what? In ways I did not have the wisdom to understand, my dad was preparing me for a life that is often unfair but one that is nonetheless blessed if only we don’t turn to complaints and bitterness.
I’ve written on many occasions about the array of nefarious forces, both external and internal, that have vested interest in our demise and the fracturing of our birth land. But I’ve come to the realization that focusing on what is holding us back is only preventing us from moving forward as a people. The truth is, no matter how many obstacles are put before us, if we got our acts together and stopped working against one another, no weapon formed against us could prosper.
Sadly, we are choosing the alternative as more and more people are wallowing in grievance. A land of more than 110 million people is being reduced into a wasteland of tribalism because we would rather seek individual victories instead of ensuring collective wellness. Separation is the snake oil that is peddled by Satan; the same way Adam and Eve were tempted to defy God through their ego, Ethiopia is being seduced by the toxic elixir of ethnocentric selfishness that comes at the cost of community, nationality and humanity.
We have all the ingredients to prosper on a global scale, God has blessed us with an abundance of natural resources and a deep reservoir of intellectual capital. If we somehow marshaled the will as a nation to get over our differences and started working together for the common good, Ethiopia’s potential is limitless. Given this opportunity, leaders and the led alike are opting for short term benefits and forgoing long term success.
I have noted a particular pattern over my years, we are a society of 95/5. Though this is not a scientific poll, more of a general observation, what I know about our community is that 95% are detached or too busy with the stresses of day to day living to think about transforming the status quo and 5% are motivated to deliver change. Within this 5% reside idealists who yearn to make a difference for our country and work diligently towards that end. In time, the perceived apathy or active malice of the some quarters within the 95% eventually grinds the idealists down and would be change agents exit stage left.
This pattern of a few wanting to make an impact only to withdraw after they get burned out happens all the time. Some who are reading this article right now have felt the overwhelming burden of loneliness and eventual bitterness that in time seeps into the hearts of those who are try to better our country only to be met with indifference or outright hostility. Big thinkers have to navigate all kinds of hurdles; accusations of theft without a shred of evidence, questions of motives or being ridiculed because of ethnic differences. We have become a nation that would rather eat its young instead of encouraging them and devour our seeds instead of planting them for future growth.
This is not to accuse our people as a whole of being aloof or unconcerned; the truth is that we have been so betrayed as a community over the years by one charlatan after another, and so wounded by two generations of traumas, that it is easier to expect the worse than it is to hope for the best. Political retreads who leverage the community for purely selfish motives make it hard for those who actually desire to give back. This fact is made even worse by the fact that many find it more suitable to follow the usual suspects of hustlers who preach division than it is to put trust in people who work for the common good.
But even within the 5% who truly want to effect change and harbor hopes of a united and prosperous Ethiopia there exists a central dilemma. Too many Ethiopians with big visions lack the will to work with others who think like them. The wheel has been reinvented in Ethiopia more than doro wot and kitfo are eaten with injera; people with common ideas keep walking separate paths only to exhaust themselves on different roads. While the rest of the world is thriving through collaboration, Ethiopia and Africa as a whole insist on going at it alone.
In the same cities are multiple community centers, in the same areas are countless non-profits with the same goals. Time and time again, Ethiopians abandon the spirit of togetherness that enabled our forefathers to defeat would-be colonizers at Adwa and instead embrace an ideology of uber me. Yet, no matter how many accolades one gets by doing things on their own, in the end the gains become unsustainable. For every one who attains enduring success, there are a litany who succumb to the grind and give up in frustration.
There is an “African” proverb that comes to mind, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. What Ethiopians needs more than ever is a shift in our collective conscience, one that puts a premium on forming partnerships and creating synergies. Instead of competing and wasting our energies by working against one another, imagine the sea change if we actually started to believe in and apply teamwork. If we put aside rivalries over petty differences and hold fast to the essence of hebret, we would not have to beg anyone for change, we can transform our country on our own.
If we are to take the next big leap and liberate ourselves from the shackles of zeregnenet, the politics of hatred and the culture of modernity at the cost of our heritage, we can only do so by changing ourselves. Holding on to past pains and fighting over bygone injustices will not heal scars—bitterness only rips open old wounds. As my father used to tell me all the time, complaining only gets in the way of finding solutions.