Just last week I had the opportunity to address Ethiopian and Eritrean student association at Ohio University also known as Salam Student Union. My presentation focused on the current political crisis in Ethiopia and highlights the untold stories of so many brave men and women political prisoners who recently just got released.
The challenging part of the presentation was how to make the presentation interesting to first-generation American born or raised Ethiopian and Eritrean, African Americans and African students who may not be familiar with the whole politics. Having that in mind prior to the presentation I decided to make the presentation easily relevant to their interest which focused on America showbiz.
In an exclusive interview with several media outlets journalist Eskinder Nega, Andualem Arage and Ustaz Ahmedin Jebel explain the struggles one encounter in prison as a political prisoner. The most striking revelation from all these was the challenge they all face in having access to books and papers. Speaking to Addis Insight, Eskinder Nega explains how he used to ask his family members to bring him a cake so that he can use the cartoon and paper that is used to wrap the cake as a paper to write. After the security officials discover the Cake trick they start handing him the Cakes with plastic bags. But that didn’t stop Eskinder or others from pursuing ways to get access to papers. They buy soap for the sake of the paper or Vinegar and peel the paper that wrapped the bottle.
Even after they manage to write on a piece of paper or cartoon they had to be cautious in the way they hide their papers. For instance, several writings were confiscated from Andualem Arage and Ustaz Ahmedin while they were writing to publish their books from prison. This reminds me or can be a relevant experience to anyone who has watched Prison Break where Michael Scofield folds the paper and use it as a Swan to pass his message. Just like Michael Scofield, this political prisoner tattooed their exit plan but unlike Michael, they tattooed their plan in their mind with words like peaceful resistance.
THE KALITI KARDASHIANS
In all my years of blogging and social media activism, I never came across a group of activists like Zone 9 who controlled the social media narrative prior and during their arrest. They successfully held three important social media campaign with the slogan of Respect The Constitutions. During their arrest, the amount of engagement and trends they created on social media shows how influential they were. They are among the new generation activists who utilized social media effectively to address their cause. I called them the Kality Kardashians since no one much the Kardashians as social media influencers. For me, given her consistent perseverance I name Mahi Fantasy as Kim. Even after her release she relentlessly gives coverage to several political prisoners whom we have never heard of.
DESPERATE HOUSE MOTHERS
There is one common photo you will see with all political prisoners right after their release. That photo illustrates how badly they missed their mothers and how badly they are missed by their mothers. These mothers you see in these photos are typical Ethiopian mothers with #netela #Gorebet #Buna and it is always too important to highlight their story as part of our struggle for democracy and equal right.
At the hype of the #metoo campaign, I challenged Ethiopian feminists about their muted voice when it comes to political prisoners who are women and who repeatedly expressed the amount of harassment and abuse they encounter during interrogation. In fact, activist Nigist who recently got released emotionally explains how she was subjected to a different form of harassment while serving prison time. That is why I always stress out about the importance of amplifying the local voice rather than just picking on what is trending on the west and not contextualizing it. It is also important to remember that in the struggle for freedom women are also in the leading front in which we have witnessed the reemergence of several selfless and brave women journalists, politicians and activists. Ethiopia is not new to seeing women in standing up for freedom and one key example could be the role and leadership of Etege Taytu during the Adwa war. If Oprah Winfrey speech during golden globe elevated you as a feminist then the story of Etege Taytu should take you to the moon.
LONG QUEUE TO FREEDOM
The queue you see in this photo is not one of those Sugar or Taxi queues that are becoming your daily routine way of life. Rather all these people lined up to pay their homage to Colonel Demeke Zewedu at his hometown Gondar. If Mandela has Long Walk to Freedom, then Colonel Demeke has Long Queue to Freedom.
T’Challa Ain’t Got Nothing on Eskinder Nega
As someone who is deeply concerned about human rights issues in Ethiopia the news of Eskinder Nega release gives me goosebumps as much as the Edna Mall millennials get goosebumps from Black Panther. Our superheroes are real and alive not fictions and they proved how one can be powerful with just a sword of a pen. Our superheroes were omnipresent and visible in our minds while they were physically restrained in a prison cell.