ከኳስ ሜዳ ርቆ
በወሬ ጎል ሲከት
Originally shared here: #MicroPoetry.
This Amharic poem is about delusional soccer game spectators who act as if they are in the soccer field scoring goal while they are actually seated very far from the field and are not the players. Perhaps, a metaphor for displaced people who “overcompensate” their absence from the place they belong, or those of us in the Diaspora who are “actively involved” in “home affairs.”
Home: Back home, homeland, motherland, fatherland: The place that we leave behind by choice (economic migration or desire to discover the outside world) or without our choice because of some external force (government, conflict, crime, eminent danger, calamity, civil war). No matter how far we go, we always bring “home” with us. We recreate, reshape, revitalize it in our body, mind and soul. We idealize, romanticize it; we fantasize about it to such an extreme level that sometimes we become delusional in the process.
How delusional? Let’s take Ethiopian diaspora, for example. Some of us are so preoccupied with “home politics” that we often forget our present reality—that we are not physically in Ethiopia. We barely participate in the sociopolitical processes of the countries that have become our new homes. Our mind is so inside Ethiopia that most of the time we fail to break through the cultural, economic, linguistic and political barriers of the new environment. We are neither here nor there. Stuck in between two places, torn apart.
For some the idealization, romanticization of “home” turns into a career. And once one builds a career out of such issues as identity, one keeps building the myth, the romanticization in the form of creative or critical writing, music, poetry, film, photography or other medium.
Some of us overestimate our capacity to change the way things are back home (there in Ethiopia), while our everyday life (here in North America or EU), is nothing more than surviving, juggling two or three menial jobs and struggling from paycheck to paycheck. Even those that are professionally successful or are influential where they live (the elite diaspora), they barely can reach out to the majority of Ethiopians who occupy rural areas; let alone have the power to change the way things work without living next to the people and understanding what they need, want, prioritize.
The talk about “home” may be therapeutic, a kind of healing process that helps one deal with the hardships that one had experienced before or is facing now in this foreign, often hostile land. One needs to vent, no doubt.
It is also great to remain concerned about the people and the places that we have left behind. Particularly, a person who was forced into exile has every reason to remain nostalgic, be over-concerned, and stay very much attached to home. But idealistic, not pragmatic, attachment can have disastrous outcome, for one may lose the opportunity to rediscover one’s potential here while one swims in the re-imagined world of there.
What is pragmatic? Creating one political party after another that milks the diaspora to “change things back home?” Or supporting pre-existing, however weak, political parties that are already in the scene of action, but desperately need funding and technical assistance in areas such as human resource capacity building, organizational management, strategic planning, and grassroots campaigning? Though the answer is obvious, what most of the time happens in the Ethiopian context is the first.
Everyone wants to have a political party as if it is like running a restaurant. Even to run a restaurant one cannot just do it without feasibility study or market analysis first, so that the place is not closed or goes bankrupt months later.
Some in the diaspora that oppose the ruling party in Ethiopia delude themselves thinking their talk can simply overthrow it and can lead our beloved home into a new epoch of absolute freedom and Western-style democracy, but all that is said without leaving DC, Seattle, Minnesota, Denver, LA, NY, Boston, Toronto, London, Amsterdam, Oslo, etc. That for many observers is a delusion of grandeur.
Nowadays some diaspora political groups constantly steal the limelight from the domestic activists that (in practice) ought to be empowered through various means, considering their competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the ruling party.
When one takes into account the fact people inside Ethiopia have limited access to critical information and have little opportunity to protest against the ruling party, then it is understandable why the “vocal diaspora” (or worse, the “toxic diaspora,” government-sponsored label) scream louder. Nevertheless, simply protesting is different from an organized movement.
Organizing for action requires at least the following:
1) physical presence (access to the people) 2) unity of action (vision) and strategic planning 3) finance 4) organizational discipline 5) operational capacity (human resource) 6) campaigning 7) innovative PR 8) strategic supporters 9) commitment to see the end or to stay until the end, despite overwhelming challenges. That is what it took the current ruling party to come to power. No magic or talk.
The Ethiopian diaspora is diverse, and not all of us have similar interests or political beliefs. Some are pro-government; others are anti-government. And there are those in the middle who neither support the government nor the opposition; or, even if they oppose the government, they still keep strong connection with home.
There are diaspora members, too, who are not interested in politics at all, but are involved in business, technology, entertainment, and humanitarian mission; they travel back and forth, and become bridges between their adoptive countries and Ethiopia.
The diaspora, over all, is a remarkable source of remittances; and why some feel entitled to pressure both the government and the opposition parties, so they become more progressive.
A number of individuals have well articulated what the diaspora can do in order to be part of the democratizing process in Ethiopia productively: Provide practical support (financial, technical, moral) and avoid emotional extremism, which leads to delusion. The diaspora ought not try to micromanage events back home; that has not worked, and it will never work.
Protesting against Ethiopia’s ruling party, letting the world know about injustices that happen under its leadership is very important as long as the protesters understand that such initiative cannot replace a conventional activism that requires one to be present where the action is happening.
Obviously, one does not have to be soccer guru to know that in order to play, if not score a goal, one has to join the other players in the field. Otherwise, the best option to enjoy the game is to be either a referee, fan, curious observer, or an investor.