Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Engaging Ethiopian Youth as Leaders and Change Agents

By: Mikias Wondyfraw
Sunday, June 20, 2010

“It takes more courage to examine darker corners of your own soul than it does for a solider to fight on the battlefield.” -William B. Yeats

We need youth leaders who are willing to examine darker corners of Ethiopia and themselves to keep our democratic experiment alive. Just like an intellectual, a leader needs to learn and know about the past. A courageous thinker and leader never forget their shared history and destiny.

Ethiopia’s population consists of young people, 41,000,000 to be exact. Many Ethiopians live in absolute poverty and suffer from chronic diseases. Economic inequality is also growing in fast pace in Ethiopia and this is creating a significant social chasm. Young people will be the change agents of Ethiopia. However, a leader needs to bring all Ethiopians together as one brotherhood and sisterhood. To be an Ethiopian leader, one has to be a wound-healer not a wound-hurter because our history has gone through rough times and a good leader should uphold the rule of law and not of revenge.

Leadership is action, not position. We have a lot of people who are willing to be “leaders,” but are not ready to act upon their values. We need youth leaders who are willing to question the foundation of ideas and assumptions that many Ethiopians live with, and are courageous enough to empower those who don't have hope in themselves or in the country’s future. A leader must empower and enlighten its followers and give them the resources and support to make a change in their life.

Ethiopia is home for the rich, poor, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Oromo, Tigray, Garage, Amhara, young, and old. It is multicultural nation. In Ethiopia, many people are losing hope and faith in their nation. Although many Ethiopians are going abroad for a “better life,” people should have faith in their nation and the commitment to better their nation. I believe there is a growing nihilism among young people in Ethiopia, people think that there is no meaning living in Ethiopia or helping others. I heard this statement many times, “Ethiopia is not doing anything for me,” or, “Ethiopia is nothing.” First of all, Ethiopia is not our biological parent, is a space that accommodates 81,000,000 people. Ethiopia can become a powerful empire or the poorest country on earth. If young people in Ethiopia start sleepwalking, then our nation will start sleepwalking too. Sleepwalking is a symptom of nihilism. So will we be 81,000,000 dead corpuses with a soul or 81,000,000 visionary Ethiopians? It is up-to the young people to make a change in their nation.

The Ethiopian communities in the U.S. are growing in very fast pace. The question I want mention is, “who are we and why are we here?” and “what’s our role in America and in Ethiopia?” Ethiopian parents always talk about our identity in the new world and how can we bring two cultures together. It is a tough question to wrestle with because it is every immigrant’s problem when they come to the U.S. Ethiopians in the U.S. or in other parts of the world are a backbone of Ethiopia’s economy. Without their economical support, many Ethiopians would live in edge of starvation. We need to distinguish between our vocation and profession. Our vocation needs to be our life's work or calling. Our profession is our day's work. There is a lot of imitation in Ethiopian communities. People just want to fit in the U.S. way of life or copy others. The U.S. is not a perfect land and it needs to work on its democratic experiment too, however, we Ethiopians need muster the courage to think and speak against injustice anywhere. Our young people want to do whatever they can, so they can be accepted into the U.S. mainstream. Ralph W. Emerson used to say, “Imitation is suicidal.” Just like the Black National Anthem, we need to lift every voice up, including our own. We need to lift up young voices that are aligned with change and vision.

Finally, I want to mention one courageous young Ethiopian in our organization. Samuel Gebru, a brilliant Ethiopian visionary, founded the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative. In the organization’s current mission statement, we see the aim of, “[Creating] a broad-based network of Ethiopians in the United States, initiate and support youth-related efforts in Ethiopia, promote Ethiopia in a positive image…as well as to promote unity and tolerance amongst Ethiopians…” I want to say something about tolerance in the context of Ethiopians. In the 1920’s, Martin Buber, an Austrian born Jewish Philosopher, wrote a book called, I and Thou. He talks about eternal connection with another man. He raises an important point, which is that the “I-and-It” relationship is separateness and ignoring the existence of other people different from themselves. Ultimately, we are not clones of one another, but let’s find a common ground that will bring all Ethiopians into brotherhood and sisterhood.

Mikias Wondyfraw is a Communications Officer of the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative.

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