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Ethiopia has many Malcolm X clones but not Martin Luther


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Yonas Biru (Courtesy of the author/Archive)

Dr Yonas Biru

Some of the comments I received in reaction to my recent articles include the following. One emailed me via Facebook Messenger: “Why are you so vehemently against Pan-Africanism and #NoMore?” Another texted me: “Please stop your attack on #NoMore.” One was a free-spirited girl/woman: “Dude, you are too old to understand current events. So, STFU!!!!!”

Let me start with a general observation. In a world where there is systemic injustice, radical movements can contribute a positive role only when a moderate force is at play as the dominant or moderating force. This was the dynamic that served the movements of Martin Luther King and Malcolm. In the final chapter of Apartheid and since the end of it, Mandela was in the mold of Dr. King, not Malcolm. He was neither Anti-White nor pro-Black. He was simply a champion of equal rights.

Let’s look at pan-Africanism. Some historians trace the origin of Pan-Africanism to 1898. The first meeting was held in 1900 mainly by African-American and Caribbean intellectuals. It was only after 1919 that the African diaspora began to attend Pan-Africanism meetings in Paris, London, and New York. I think it was in the early 1970s that the first meeting of Pan-Africanism was held in Africa (Tanzania).

Pan-Africanism has taken different forms, including the Harlem Renaissance (New York), Afrocentrism (London and Paris), African liberation (Ethiopia and Ghana), Rastafarianism (Jamaica), and even hip hop (USA). . Undoubtedly, Pan-Africanism has played a positive role in the liberation of Africa. Outside of African liberation, it was and remains a fringe movement with no discernible positive outcome for mainland Africa.

Why has the pan-African movement failed to make a dent in African economic development in an increasingly globalized and integrated world? There are two key reasons. First, it has become more and more of a radical African movement. Since 1957, Africans have tried to use Pan-Africanism as an economic solution, if not a panacea. It hasn’t worked. And it won’t work for the foreseeable future. There are institutional, legal and physical (capital and infrastructure) constraints. Most importantly, Africa’s growth is intertwined with the global economic order.

Second, there is nothing wrong with pan-Africanism being used as a regional economic association as part of the world economic order. The problem is that it is often promoted as a protest movement. Nations like Ethiopia have much to gain by leveraging their strategic geopolitical advantage rather than wasting it by trumpeting a mindless move against neo-colonialism and anti-imperialism.

As I’ve written before, when we talk about #NoMore we need to separate the intellectual genesis that gave rise to it and the young social media champions who encapsulated it in a lovely hashtag and spread it to a global audience. It’s an unfortunate marriage between old-fashioned intellectuals and modern day social media savvy. We need a divorce, followed by retirement for the former and equipping the latter with the art and science of diplomacy. Only then our

Able social media connoisseurs use their expertise to further Ethiopia’s geopolitical and diplomatic interests.

The problem is that it is the anti-Western voice that has completely saturated the political bandwidth from the prime minister’s office to the intellectual discussion forums. Here are some examples.

Professor Tesfaye Demmellash:“Unique in Africa for its enduring national civilization and fierce resistance against European colonial invasion, modern Ethiopia can become a much more significant independent regional power in Africa. The concern of the colonial and post-colonial West for decades has been to limit Ethiopian development…”

Professor Al Mariam: “What is happening in the relationship between Ethiopia and the United States is a ‘clash of civilizations.’ It is a clash between a civilization founded on white European supremacy and an African civilization deeply rooted in black independence.” The colorful professor added: The United States aims to “dismantle Ethiopia by orchestrating ethnic and religious wars, turning Ethiopia into Northeast African Libya/Syria” because American leaders are “stubbornly committed to the destruction of Ethiopia because [they] they want to avenge the humiliating and devastating double loss of a white army in Africa in recorded history.”

The same sentiment is echoed by PM Abiy who believes that the West is against Ethiopia because “they are afraid of Ethiopia’s potential”. Why? “In 2050 there will be two superpowers and Ethiopia will be one of them.”

In the absence of a moderate and sensible voice, Ethiopia’s public diplomacy and geopolitical narrative is dominated by unfounded paranoia. The #NoMore movement was a byproduct of that. What made the bad situation worse is that our embassies in Washington and European cities have no voice. They have been displaced by #NoMore street diplomacy. I don’t see anything that Ethiopia has gotten out of it in the short or long term.

The utter nonsense in our geopolitical and public diplomacy is that for two years we condemned the West for being the enemy of Ethiopia driven by the desire to prevent Ethiopia from becoming a “major and independent regional power in Africa”. As soon as the war is over, we turn to the people we condemn as our enemies to help us build up war-torn regions.

I never cared for Thomas Sankara, the young officer who seized power in Burkina Faso and became a champion of Pan-Africanism in his generation. But I respect him because his first decision in international affairs was to stop accepting international aid, saying: “He who feeds you, he controls you.”

Our people hold a “Down with Imperialism” banner in one hand and a charity tray in the other to beg for money from the very Western countries they see as their existential enemies. As I pointed out in my last article, there is something unpleasant or even embarrassing about it.

editor’s note : The article was first shared on the P2P forum on November 27, 2022


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