This I Believe

Ye - baltimore, Maryland
Entered on July 17, 2007

I, an Ethiopian who have to remain anonymous, believe this.

I believe humans have equal potential for good and evil. I also believe that being evil is a lot easier than being good.

I had previously believed that we are all born with an overwhelming tendency to be good, and that most are good. Having believed this so completely, I always paused to think about the many atrocities committed around the world to find where the good intentions of an individual or governments was derailed to result in the particular atrocity.

I had believed, e.g., that the poverty and distraction that has been Africa since the continent was discovered, raped, and abandoned by the colonial powers was a result of many good intentions gone very very wrong. I never sincerely believed that there were people sitting in air conditioned resorts and parliaments planning the systematic enslavement of the people, land and institutions of Africa.

I was wrong. Humans have the potential to be evil and many are evil. What I find strange is that an evil act can appear to be a legitimate case of protecting the interest of an individual or of a nation. Take colonialism, Europe and the U.S. were protecting their economical, political and social interests when they colonized and enslaved a continent; but, is protecting one’s interest a justifiable reason to plunge a continent into turmoil that it many never recover from? I don’t think so.

I believe the most evil human trait is our failure to consider the cost to others associated with protecting our interest.

A turning point for my belief is an event that is little known by most in the West –it is the most recent national elections in Ethiopia and the drama that took place in its aftermath.

May of 2005 the first multiparty election took place in Ethiopia. It happened under a lot of excitement and close to 90% voter turnout. Watching the turnout, I held my breath hoping nothing bad would happen after so many positive steps forward. Hopes are just that, hopes. My pre-election excitement turned to grave concern as the rhetoricians from the major parties took to declaring victory well before votes were counted. Then, by early June, supporters of the main opposition coalition, which felt cheated out of parliamentary majority, took to the streets for peaceful protests– protests met with fatal shootings and mass arrests. Watching these mass arrests and shootings I felt completely cheated. I had believed in change, I had prayed for change, but all I saw was yet another failed African election.

Most disheartening was the arrest of all the leaders of the opposition coalition–these were engineers, economists, veteran human right activists, judges, lawyers and many who truly believed in democratic actions as a way forward for Ethiopia. Imagine what this means, a whole political party is silenced by arresting all its main leaders.

It has been over two years since this took place, these individuals are still in prisons and make-shift prisons across Ethiopia — waiting to die from the filth of the prisons, or waiting for a life sentence, at best, or the death penalty.

The events in 2005, shocking as they were, were not as shocking as the response of western powers that followed –a range between pure silence and half-baked warnings to the Ethiopian government. As I marched with many in D.C. asking for the “immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscious”, my belief in humanity was put to test. I kept thinking ‘why haven’t the U.S. and U.K., with their expressed wish to “spread democracy”, insisted on the release of these prisoners-of-conscious’ (as they have been labeled by Amnesty International and every other human rights organization)? Where was the E.U.?

The answer is simple –they kept silent and are keeping silent to ‘protect their own’. Their silence has helped them maintain a relationship with PM Meles of Ethiopia, their declared “ally in the fight against terrorism”. Put more simply, they have bartered away the lives of Ethiopians and the hope of an Ethiopian democracy so that PM Meles will help them win “the war or terrorism”. Imagine the irony – to win a war against terrorist by declaring war on democracy in such a poor country.

The silence of the media is also deafening. Why are they silent about the Ethiopian crisis that directly affects thousands while willingly broadcasting the abduction of 1 foreigner in Nigeria? Whatever the answer may be the words of MLK, Jr. ring true to me: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” He was right, my belief in humanity was stifled by the silence of the “good people”, silence that protects a dictator while tortures many.