Remembering my Ethiopian brothers and sisters: They did not die in vain.
By: Dr.Teodros Kiros
The remembrance of the recent death of Ethiopian students in the prime of their lives burdens my
heart with anguish and sadness. Their unnecessary death manifests the absence of moral intelligence
and conscience in those who developed the callous decision to waste lives and to squander a very
precious time in modern Ethiopian history, a ripe time which could have been used to motivate youth
to think positively, to spark hope and peace in their lives, so that they can think and work for their
country. Clearly, our leaders thought otherwise. They brutally killed some of them. We now have
tragedy on our hands. In addition to the politics of faction, we have now marked our hands with the
blood of our children, the back bone of development, the measures of moral civilization. By this act,
we have chosen barbarism over civilization, irrationality over rationality, death over dialogue. Indeed,
this regime will be remembered for creating an Ethiopian tragedy, which will be inscribed in our
memories. These heinous crime will be confused with the many wonderful programs that this regime
had so ably articulated.
These recent tragedy compels me to rethink and relive my last ten days in Addis, less than a month
ago. I spent three of those days at the university, actively attending a conference on African
Philosophy. I was there on the university compound surrounded by hundreds of students inside and
outside the walls of the university. I remember how intense and unhappy the environment felt. Many
them were kind enough to notice my presence among them. I could not contain myself from taking
many secret looks at the youth of my homeland. Many returned my looks with gentle smiles. Some
would look back with enigmatic expressions. A few would deliberately deny me the recognition that I
longed for. I intuitively understood. They were unhappy with their lives, with their classes, their ragged
cloths, the torn books, the tattered hand bags, the tired bodies, who can barely walk. Very few wore
smiles on their faces. Fewer still gazed at the sky to protect themselves from the powerful sun that
engulfed their emaciated bodies. I visited the classrooms. They are not any better than the tin shacks
and plastic homes to which most of this students go when school is out, and sometimes when the
dreary weekends arrive. I walked on the hall ways and was chased out by corrosive sweat that would
drive mosquitoes away. I entered the bathrooms and had to cover my nose and my face , so as not
to be scarred by anger for ever.
All is not gloom. For some love is beautiful and good. When the university closes for vacation and on
the weekends, the very few fortunate ones go home to their beautiful houses, are welcomed by their
doormen, and order their maids around. But those are so few not to count for very much. Most of our
youth are not so fortunate to even say that they have actual homes, functional parents and normal
lives. As every Ethiopian knows, many are called to our only university, and very few are chosen.
The rest are forced to become hooligans, as our leaders like to call them. We now know how
hooligans are constructed. It does not take much to create them. All that a nation has to do is deny
them normal homes, loving parents, good schools and the right to enroll in a college. In the Ethiopian
case, how many students could our national university accommodate? But look at us Ethiopians. Our
ancestors fought for our survival.
They insulated us from slavery and colonialism.They left behind a few schools and a national
University. Yet we are specializing in destroying it bit by bit by manning it with underpaid, and highly
When a few daring souls question us, when they dare to think creatively and challenge our decisions,
we kill them, we call them hooligans, and we so decide we barbarously call for their untimely death.
Genuine democracies are not afraid of change, most specifically they do not intimidate the very
young, who learn by questioning, who are not afraid of death, but are willing to go behind the limits of
experience, who teach us by introducing us to the new, the novel, the original, like some of their best
counter parts in the west, where I make my living.
I could not help but compare their lives with the youth I teach in America. Marbled hall ways, clean
class rooms, reasonably paid teachers, sprightly students with time on their hands happily stroll on
gorgeous campuses. Come weekends, they look forward to their parents townhouses,
condominiums and mansions to indulge in home cooking and summer beaches. Well rested they
return to colleges and universities where they combine work with pleasure.
I remember the few students who came in to listen to my talk at the conference. They looked so
hungry for knowledge, so willing to learn. But the university failed them, with its shabby classes, its
unhappy teachers, sacrosanct curriculum. I remember their civility, those round Ethiopian eyes, those
enigmatic smiles who speak to you.. I have always hated power. For a brief moment I dreamt that I
had the power to run that University efficiently so as to help this dreamy youth consummate their
dreams, their hopes and their life plans.
As long as the demands of those who died are not fulfilled, those who remain behind will fight for
My brothers and sisters did not die in vain. The moral demand will continue to burn in my heart, my
grounding is with those who died.