Speaking truth on behalf of Ethiopia’s youth

Published on Pambazuka News, by Alemayehu G. Mariam, July 1, 2010.


One of the major problems of Ethiopia’s youth is that the older generation refuses to get out of the way. At the conference Zenawi used an interesting analogy involving a traffic jam to describe his sense of the intergenerational leadership succession. He said it was necessary to create an orderly succession in the transfer of power from one generation to another in the same way as traffic on the highway should flow ‘smoothly’ and in an ‘orderly process’. It is ironic that he does not see himself as the principal cause of the 20-year total traffic jam on the Ethiopian political freeway, but his analogy is instructive. Speaking particularly to the older generation opposition, we need to realise that we are cluttering and congesting the political highway with our old clunkers and jalopies.

We need to graciously accept that we need to get off the highway so that the youth driving their turbocharged cars can zoom to their destinations. The point is that the older generation can be most helpful by providing guidance and advice to the youth instead of getting on the highway and blocking the flow of traffic. Leadership is not limited to the political realm. Youth can be engaged in activism on community, environmental and human rights issues; they can participate in volunteer community service and take leadership roles in civic and cultural institutions. We can help enlighten, inspire and empower the youth. The basic challenge is not only to engage the youth in governance but also in preparing them to take diverse leadership in the future. Those in the opposition should seriously consider drafting a formal youth agenda with the significant input of youth addressing the wide range of problems and issues.


There is a big disconnect and a huge gulf between young Ethiopians in the diaspora and those in Ethiopia. That is partly a function of geography, but also class. It needs to be bridged. Youth in the diaspora are in the best position to create linkages with their counterparts in Ethiopia using cyber-technology. Many young Ethiopians born in the West are often heard complaining and expressing concern over the enormous problems faced by young people in Ethiopia. Diaspora youth endowed with higher education and resources can use their creativity to forge networks and linkages to help their counterparts in Ethiopia.


I have no magic formula for any of the problems faced by Ethiopia’s youth. My humble message to all young Ethiopians is simple: Never give up. Never. Emancipate your minds from mental slavery. Develop your creative powers. Learn and teach each other. Unite as the children of Mother Ethiopia, and reject any ideology or effort that seeks to divide you on the basis of ethnicity, language, region or class. Study and acquire knowledge not only about the arts and sciences but also your legal, constitutional and human rights. It is easier for tyrants and dictators to rob you of your rights when you are ignorant and fearful. It has been said that ‘ignorance has always been the most powerful weapon of tyrants; enlightenment the salvation of the free’. Jamming the airwaves to keep information from reaching the youth and the larger population and maintaining a pall of darkness over society is the weapon of tyrants. Blocking access to the Internet, banning the free press and exiling independent journalists are all weapons in the arsenal of tyrants who fear the truth and despair over their rendezvous with the dustbin of history.

US President Barack Obama was absolutely right when he said, ‘we’ve learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realized’. The destiny of ‘the future country of Ethiopia’ is in not in the clenched fists of dictators but in the palms of the likes of Birtukan Midekssa and all the youth like her yearning to breath free. Ethiopia’s youth owes a lot to Midekssa. She is in prison for life not only because she stood up for her rights; but most importantly because she wants her generation of young people and posterity to live free in the future country of Ethiopia that she often dreamed about. If the dictators do not own the youth, they cannot own the future. (full long text).

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