Ethiopian Intellectuals: The Sleeping Giant
Every society expects significant contributions from the educated. In fact, the very essence and rationale of education is to help people grow and develop mentally, morally, emotionally and physically, which all are crucial for a country’s socio-economic and cultural development. That contemporary economies require more than before the substantial production and application of knowledge puts the educated at the forefront of development initiatives including political participation. This is even more so in developing countries, where poverty is the order of the day. But what if hard educated people prefer to keep silent in the midst of struggling economy, corruption, absence of alternative media, absence of rule of law and freedom, and exodus of citizens?
I am arguing that Ethiopian intellectuals, both locals and the Diaspora, are not substantially contributing to nation building, particularly related to economic and political development. The educated who reside in Ethiopia are in a better position to at least offer something directly related to their professions for which they get paid. This is great but the impact is too small to be noticed. This is so true particularly when it comes to 'fighting' all the injustices that nearly engulfed the country. Except the very few who oppose injustices in various ways, the majority are in deep sleep of carelessness, negligence and reluctance. Diaspora intellectuals also seem to avoid ‘playing’ at the front line; they do not join or support the almost regular oppositions orchestrated by the rest of the Diaspora, for instance. Why this does happen to Ethiopia, which until recently offered free basic and higher education to the now highly educated?
Reasons for silence
Out of sheer curiosity and concern for my motherland, I tried to address the question. I happen to enlist several potential reasons why Ethiopian intellectuals fail to significantly contribute to the well-being of their land and people. One, they may not be interested in caring for the safety, security, and development of the country. This group of the educated takes it that pursuing and fulfilling personal goals (establishing family, building homes, getting permanent jobs…) is what it takes to lead a successful life. Two, others believe that they could not meaningfully contribute to positive change at all. They are pessimistic about the power of the human mind and the future of Ethiopia. Three, several may complain that they lack the experience to ‘tap’ their own expertise for development. Four, others are extremely busy winning their own lives. Five, many consider that their potential contribution could bring harm and disaster (from the security apparatus of the governing party) to them and their families. Sixth, others see the absence of a legitimate political playing field; that both the governing party and the opposition are equally undemocratic, selfish, oppressive and narrowly scoped by ethnicity or ideology. These and other excuses will lead us no where but to stagnation and complete failure. The educated must examine their psychology and their potential for better serving Ethiopia.
What should an educated do
To me, an educated person is one who 'drives' both on rough and smooth roads. The educated must believe that his/her competencies are valuable in bringing change to society. Intellectuals must try to ‘tame’ the ‘wild’ Ethiopian political landscape. They must learn how to make sacrifices of various sorts for the sake of national change. They must recall that their decades-old education cost Ethiopia billions of dollars. They must understand that the poor tax payer owe them their skills and knowledge and commitment in return. The educated must speak and ‘fight’ on behalf of the poor and the disadvantaged. The educated must believe that a democratic society is not born but be created. Above all, being educated is being highly ambitious, responsible, perseverant, and accountable. The mental and psychological ‘architecture’ of the educated need a complete re-configuration. This should be the first thing to accomplish.
The potential contribution mechanisms and modalities must be multifaceted. One must believe that their cumulative efforts could bring desired change. To begin with, they must start fighting for their own rights and freedom at work and elsewhere. They must deal with their partners, customers, or students in the most ethical and moral way. It is important to establish, grow, and sustain genuine professional associations. The educated must get participated in community services such as clubs, committees, associations, boards, and/or other establishments. This will help them to get connected to the society which they aim at changing finally. There must be a calculated plan and action when it comes to participation in politics. Though formal membership may not be required, the educated must serve the opposition in various capacities: as consultants and/or financial contributors. Their participation must also be significant when it comes to campaigns and elections. If possible, it is great to get nominated for positions at various levels; if not there must be active participation in nominating and choosing good candidates, drawing in resources for election-related expenditures, etc.
The educated must not be engaged in or support opposition politics only. Since the final goal is to see Ethiopia turning into a genuine democracy, there must be no limit to one’s scope of contribution. The educated must also collaborate with the governing party in the capacity of consultant, critic, and/or mediator. What is really lacking is commending those deeds of the government that are well intended and positive. The educated must acknowledge and loudly praise all good beginnings while having a critical eye on injustices, malpractices, and/or ill-engineered policies and plans. To do that, they must resort to local and international media of all sorts. Crucial in this regard is to organize open workshops and conferences where key social issues are addressed. Constructive and sustained engagments using social media (websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, emails,...) is a brilliant strategy as it defies temporal and spatial constraints. An awakened (public) mind is a recipe for change.
It is not too late to begin contributing something to the betterment of life and living in Ethiopia. What is needed is that zest and commitment for positive change. Extremely critical is mobilizing the public around a perceived model of change, where all the strategies and mechanisms are clearly articulated. Also at the core of bringing change is creating and maintaining a dense network of stakeholders at the Kebele, Woreda, Zone, Region, national and international levels. This will ensure effectiveness and sustainability. Struggle of this kind in Ethiopia surely attracts risks and ultimatums from anywhere. Overcoming them and getting focused on the goal and even making sacrifices is what should save the struggle for freedom and development. Let’s believe that we must take part in the creation of a truly democratic Ethiopia where the rule of law presides over dictatorship.