From Greensboro, North Carolina to Addis Ababa Ethiopia.
By Yilma Bekele
The year was 1960. That was only fifty years ago. It was a time of two Americas. One white and privileged and the other black and down trodden. Whites designed the law. It was carefully crafted to serve the interest of the fair skinned citizen. As far as the whites were concerned, things were humming along beautifully as nature intended them to be. World War II is over with the Allies winning decisively and the US economy was booming as never before. There was no single dark cloud in the horizon. Life was beautiful for those born white.
Born Black was a different matter. To be considered as a second-class citizen in your own country is not a desirable place to be. It begs for action to right what is wrong. The history of the Black Diaspora is full of gallant actions by our people for freedom and equality. Nat Turner, Fredrick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King are but a few of the giants of the struggle of the African American.
What happened on Monday, February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, South Carolina was a continuation of that quest for freedom. Four young Black college students sat down at a lunch counter and requested to be served. They were refused service and asked to leave. They refused! Thus started a cascade of events that changed race relations in America.
The American Civil War was fought between the agrarian and slave holding states of the south and the industrial north from 1861 to 1865. The North won. Legal slavery was more or less abolished. The Confederacy, as the south was known reverted to enacting new laws or amendments to existing laws to disfranchise the black citizen. They are commonly known as ‘Jim Crow ‘laws. They came up with what is known as ‘separate but equal’ legal doctrine. This trickery of the law justified segregation of the races in all walks of life. This state of affairs continued up to the 1960’s.
The college students of Greensboro, North Carolina were breaking that law when they sat down at that lunch counter. They were refusing to accept the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ garbage peddled by the white majority. In practice this doctrine was a farce. Segregation was real but ‘equal’ it was not. The Bantustans of South Africa and the Kilils of present-day Ethiopia are modeled on this bankrupt and insane doctrine.
The Greensboro sit-ins opened the floodgates of black indignation. It spread like a wild fire and every city, town and village in the south saw politicization of the masses of the black population. In 1960 over a quarter of a million Americans held what is known as the ‘March on Washington for jobs and freedom.’ This is the place where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous speech ‘I have a dream.’ The Civil Rights Act of 1964 dealt a deathblow to ‘Jim Crow’ and changed race relations in the US.
There is a lesson to be learnt from this rich history. Oppression is not unique to us. Treated like a second-class citizen in your own land has happened to others too. I am sure at times situations liked hopeless. The problem seemed insurmountable. The enemy looked bigger than life. But somehow they found that inner strength to continue the struggle. Fear was overcome with hope.
We are not strange to adversity. Remember Adwa? Our fathers could have cut and run. To avoid bloodshed they could have submitted peacefully. They could have negotiated a face saving treaty and accepted Italy’s commanding role on Ethiopian affairs. It is not difficult to justify ‘kneeling down’ using sophisticated language. They did none of that. They took maters in their own hands. They said ‘No’ to being bullied.
Remember Maichew? We stood up against a foreign aggressor when the odds were against us. The Fascists have a modern army, airplanes and poison gas. We had old worn out guns, limited munitions and a few trained in the modern art of war. But to our ancestors defeat was not an option. They gave birth to what became known as ‘guerrilla warfare.’
It was only yesterday that our ‘privileged and pampered’ university students choose the side of their people and raised the banner of ‘land to the tiller’ slogan and challenged the Monarchy. University and high school students echoed the cry of South Africans, Rhodesians (Zimbabwe) and stood firm in their belief for freedom and equality. We are not new to fighting for our freedom and human right for others.
The college students of Greensboro, North Carolina challenged the legitimacy of the law. Passage of a distorted and self-serving law does not make it a legitimate peace of legislation. Acceptance by the people is what gives the law a firm ground to stand on. That is the key. The college students said no to a law that demeaned them as a human being. They did not wait for Oregon to act. They did not look up to New York to start their fight. They did not complain about Georgia nor being with them. They did what they believed was morally right. They disobeyed a law that is immoral and unjust.
Thus we have the Ethiopian government passing all kind of laws to curb the civil right of the citizen. They use the law to break the law. They use the law to serve the interest of the minority. In today’s Ethiopia the government use of the law of the land to settle personal score have left society in disarray. There is no institution the Ethiopian people look up to. The executive is a collection of tugs, the Parliament is a hollow body used as a rubber stamp for the wishes of the executive, the judiciary is a den of illiterate sycophants passing pre written judgments.
Who is going to save our country from the calamity awaiting us? Shall we petition the UN? Do we beg the Obama administration? Or do we plead with the European Union? You know it is not going to work. What incentive do they have to involve themselves in this mess? The ferenjis have a simple saying ‘you broke it you fix it.’ Better accept the truth that no one is going to come and liberate us. No one showed up to help the African Americans. Adwa was our battle.
Did you read that ‘a European Union exploratory team is visiting Ethiopia to determine whether to send an observer mission to monitor national elections in May.” That is what they told us and that is what we would like to believe. But that is not the truth. EU was sending a team to assess the mood of the population. They do not want a repeat of 2005 or what happened in Kenya. The delegation is there to see how restive the natives are. They want to gauge how tight the TPLF machine got things under control. They will see security forces deployed through out the country. They will meet the meek and tame opposition. They will be made to sense the atmosphere of fear and apathy. They will go back satisfied that there will be an election, TPLF and its satellites will win and the opposition will be allowed some seats and misery will continue it reign.
No matter how you look at it there is no escaping the fact that the liberation of Ethiopia from dictatorship falls on our shoulders. That is each and every one of us. Our individual actions taken together bring about the outcome we desire. Individual opposition to tyranny taken in tandem will crush the tyrants back. It is not going to be easy. It is not going to be quick. It is not going to be clean. That is why they call it a struggle. But it starts with you. You can fight for your freedom or die a slave. It is a choice only you can make.