Author’s Note: In this memorandum commentary, I reflect on a poem read by the late Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah at the inauguration of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 in honor of Ethiopia. Nkrumah’s special poem extols Ethiopia’s natural beauty and bounty and the wisdom of its people.
Nkrumah’s poem, “Ethiopia Shall Rise”, has puzzled me for decades. It is at once a prophetic, mysterious, cheerful, inspiring, upbeat and confident poem.
I know from PM Abiy’s public statements that he has profound respect for past African leaders. I do not doubt he appreciates and respects the two original giant pillars of African unity and Pan-Africanism, H.I.M. Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.
A leader who does not look back and learn from the mistakes of his predecessors is doomed to repeat them. PM Abiy is determined not to repeat the mistakes of past African leaders but to follow in the footsteps of those who have done right by Africa. Like Mandela, he is determined to correct government wrongs with human rights.
Paraphrasing a line from Shakespeare, “Some are born leaders, some achieve leadership, and some have leadership thrust upon them.” Abiy is a born leader. Every day, he is proving to be a transformational leader.
Ethiopia is blessed with born leaders like Abiy. I don’t mean just political leaders. I mean young leaders in all fields of human endeavor. But they have not been given a chance to prove themselves. Few knew of Abiy Ahmed until he assumed office. Few would have predicted the rise of a young leader like Abiy and even fewer who could have predicted what he is doing today. Abiy is determined to empty the prisons of political prisoners.
Of course, I am not surprised. For years, I have been preaching the rise of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation and proclaiming Ethiopia shall rise on the wings of her young men and women.
I have known for a very long time that Ethiopia is full of Abiy Ahmeds. They go by different names: Eskinder Nega, Lemma Megerssa, Andualem Aragie, Nigist Yirga, Emawayish Alemu, Abubakar Ahmed, Okello Akway Ochalla, Demeke Zewdu, Abubaker Ahmed and so many others.
Today we are witnessing in Ethiopia the victory of nonviolent resistance over the bayonets and guns of the Forces of the Dark Side.
I have previously chastised and challenged the Forces of the Dark Side to rise above their negativism, defeatism, cynicism and pessimism and join the Forces of the Light Side so that they too can see Ethiopia rising like the sun from the darkness of tyranny and state terror.
I hope Nkrumah’s poem will inspire PM Abiy Ahmed and encourage him to keep on keeping on following in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and leading his army of 70 million young people on the long road to freedom. I also hope it will inspire all Ethiopians who love their country and people unconditionally and are determined to work to improve the lives and human rights of their people for no other reason but because it is the right, the human right, thing to do.
A new day is dawning and over the horizon and Ethiopia is rising. Let us all rise and shine in the Land of 13-Months of Sunshine.
The great Pan-Africanist’ ode to Ethiopia: Ethiopia shall rise. (Ye Ityopia Tinsae)
I am always fascinated by the idea of “rising”. Those of us in the Christian faith believe in resurrection. I believe an entire nation that has been left for dead can be resurrected, certainly not in three days, but in three years or so. When I think of Nkrumah’s poem, I think of a dead Ethiopia rising from the grave of ethnic apartheid, the hell of corruption and the pit of crimes against humanity.
Nkrumah’s use of the “rising” metaphor in his ode to Ethiopia is somewhat puzzling. Given the circumstances, it would have been more appropriate for Nkrumah to declare “Africa shall rise.” After all, between 1960 -1963, over two dozen African countries rose from the ashes of colonialism and became independent. (We’ll talk about neocolonialism another time.)
But Nkrumah prophesied about an Ethiopia rising. What did he mean by a “rising” Ethiopia? Rise from what? Rise like what? Rise like the Phoenix from the ashes?
In August 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave his timeless speech in which he said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed…” Dr. King was talking about the unfulfilled American creed of “all men are created equal”.
In May 1963, Nkrumah prophesied Ethiopia shall rise. Did he mean rise and shine on the African continent?
Mandela said, “Our greatest glory lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”
Are we witnessing the glorious rise of a failed Ethiopia?
We are today witnessing an Ethiopia rising. Behold, Ityopia’s Tinsae. My cup runneth over just thinking about it.
Ethiopia shall rise like the sun over Pan-Africa!
Nkrumah was passionate about Pan-Africanism, but he never wrote prophesying “Pan-Africanism shall rise”.
Nkrumah was passionate about Africa, but he never wrote a poem of an “Africa Rising”.
Nkrumah loved Pan-Africanism and Africa, but he had a love affair with Ethiopia. Nkrumah had a special place for Ethiopia in his heart.
Though Nkrumah was the foremost Pan-Africanist of his time and arguably of all time, he saw Ethiopia as a special beacon of light and freedom for all of Africa. He was deeply impressed by Ethiopia’s long and successful defense of its territory, sovereignty and independence from repeated incursions by European colonialists. He saw Ethiopia as the cradle of African civilization. He saw Ethiopia as the salvation of Africa. “Ethiopia shall rise and remould Africa’s destiny.”
Ethiopia shall rise over the Forces of the Dark Side and shine
Looking back, I believe Nkrumah was not only an ardent Pan-Africanist but also an African “prophet”.
Nkrumah’s poem is indeed “prophesy”.
Nkrumah knew Ethiopia shall rise long before the blind visionaries made her slip and fall into the quagmire of ethnic politics.
Nkrumah knew Ethiopia shall rise long before those who declared “Africa is rising… The African Renaissance has begun…”
“Ethiopia shall rise!”, poetically declared Nkrumah.
I say, Ethiopia shall rise like the morning sun and the full moon at midnight.
Ethiopia shall rise up and shake off the sooty dust of dictatorship that covers her.
Ethiopia shall rise again and brightly shine like a precious gem.
Ethiopia shall rise above sectarianism and communalism.
Ethiopia shall rise from the depths of doubt to the heights of faith.
Ethiopia shall rise, and stretch out her arms to God and embrace all her children.
When Africa was under colonialism, Ethiopia rose up against colonialism and became the sun light of freedom for Africa.
Today, Ethiopia is rising on the wings of Ethiopiawinet for all Ethiopians.
Lemma Megerssa said it best:
EthiopiaWINet is an addiction [deep passion]. It is in the heart of each and every Ethiopian. If there is a way to open and look at what is in the hearts and minds of Ethiopians, what we see here today [EthiopiaWINet] is what we have seen here today [our unity in our Ethiopiawinet]… [EthiopiaWINet] is to be free.
In my very first speech as a human rights advocate in 2006, I defined our Ethiopiawinet as a condition ordained by God: “We are first and foremost Ethiopians, one people, woven by the hand of the Almighty into the most beautiful ethnic mosaic in the world. Look in the Holy Bible. Look in the Holy Q’uran. The learned scholars tell us that Ethiopia and Ethiopians are mentioned in the Holy Bible no less than thirty-three times, and as many times in the Holy Q’uran.”
In my “I, Proud Ethiopian” commentary, I affirmed, “There is only One Ethiopia home to its diverse peoples. We believe in the indivisible unity and oneness of the Ethiopian people. There is no Tigrean Ethiopian. There is no Oromo Ethiopian. There is no Amhara Ethiopian. There is no Gurage Ethiopian. There is no Afari Ethiopian. There is no Somali Ethiopian…There is ONE and FOREVER will only be ONE Ethiopia and ONE Ethiopian people.”
Ethiopia is rising because Ethiopiawinet is rising higher and higher in the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people.
I have quoted Gandhi hundreds of times over the past 13 years. “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.”
Ethiopia is rising on the ashes of tyranny and despotism.
Ethiopia is rising because the Forces of the Dark Side are, in the end, falling.
Watching Abiy walk the talk on the long road to freedom
In my Memorandum No. 1 to PM Abiy, I advised him to follow in Mandela’s footsteps.
No doubt, he will take missteps and slip up as he matures in leadership. I am even more sure that the Forces of the Dark Side will toil day and night to make sure he will trip, fall and never rise.
But if he follows Mandela’s footsteps, he could fall a thousand times and rise up each time and keep on walking on the long road to freedom.
I have concluded PM Abiy truly understands and applies Mandela’s principles of leadership:
Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.
Our human compassion binds us to one another – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Lead from the front, but don’t leave your base behind.
Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.
Over the past seven weeks, PM Abiy has shown honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity and readiness to serve his people.
PM Abiy in his spellbinding public statements speaks truth to power, that is himself and his own administration. He said, “We in the government are thieves. We steal the people’s money.”
PM Abiy said that he is young and has much to learn. If he makes mistakes, the people should teach him, as his parents, with a little “qunticha”, (a little more than “go to your room” type of punishment).
PM Abiy declared his cabinet will meet on Saturdays so that the work week is not wasted. He urged all official meetings should be short and purposeful.
PM Abiy preaching the gospel of Ethiopiawinet and convert the suffering of the people into hope for the future.
PM Abiy preaches revenge and hatred will only result in more suffering, poverty, conflict and death. As Dr. King said, “An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.” PM Abiy does not want to see an Ethiopia of self-inflicted blindness.
PM Abiy says what he means and means what he says. He tells is like it is and lets the chips fall where they may. Just like me!
Ethiopia Shall Rise
In May 1963 when the Organization of African Unity (replaced by the African Union in 2002) was founded, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah accentuated his closing remarks by reciting a poem he had written as a crowning tribute to an ascendant Ethiopia. Addressing H.I.M. Haile Selassie, President Nkrumah said: “It only remains for me, Your Majesty, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, to convey to the Government and people of Ethiopia especially to His Imperial Majesty, my sincere expression of gratitude for a happy and memorable stay in Addis Ababa…”
With confident cadence, Nkrumah recited a poem of such exquisite eloquence and grace that my eyes well up every time I read it.
Ethiopia shall rise
Ethiopia, Africa’s bright gem
Set high among the verdant hills
That gave birth to the unfailing
Waters of the Nile
Ethiopia shall rise
Ethiopia, land of the wise;
Ethiopia, bold cradle of Africa’s ancient rule
And fertile school
Of our African culture;
Ethiopia, the wise
And remould with us the full figure
Of Africa’s hopes
At that historic inaugural conference, H.I.M. Haile Selassie made the most compelling case, the most passionate plea for African unity, independence and Pan-Africanism:
…We look to the vision of an Africa not merely free but united. In facing this new challenge, we can take comfort and encouragement from the lessons of the past. We know that there are differences among us. Africans enjoy diverse cultures, distinctive values, special attributes. But we also know that unity can be and has been attained among men of the most disparate origins, that differences of race, of religion, of culture, of tradition, are no insuperable obstacle to the coming together of peoples. History teaches us that unity is strength, and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined strength, for the path to true African brotherhood and unity… Our efforts as free men must be to establish new relationships, devoid of any resentment and hostility, restored to our belief and faith in ourselves as individuals, dealing on a basis of equality with other equally free peoples…
H.I.M.’s words could be said of an Ethiopia rising today. Change the word “Africa” with Ethiopia and his speech would offer a great moral and political lesson for contemporary Ethiopians. “History teaches us that unity is strength. Ethiopians today must establish new relationships, devoid of any resentment and hostility, restored to our belief and faith in ourselves as individuals, dealing on a basis of equality with other equally free peoples…”
Nkrumah is not only Ghana’s son, but also Ethiopia’s.
When the Forces of Darkness said Ethiopia’s history is only one hundred years old, Nkrumah said “No. Ethiopia is the cradle of Africa’s ancient rule.”
When the Forces of Darkness tried to shroud Ethiopia in the darkness of tyranny and dictatorship, Nkrumah said, “Let her shine. Ethiopia, Africa’s bright gem.”
When the Forces of Darkness said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the Ethiopian people,” Nkrumah said, “No. Ethiopia is the land of the wise.”
When the Forces of Darkness hatched plans to make the Nile a source of war, death and destruction, Nkrumah said, “No. Ethiopia is the birthplace of the Nile” which gives the gift of life to Africa.
When the Forces of Darkness toiled day and night to crush our spirits and cast our souls into the pit of despair and misery, Nkrumah said, “Hold on! Ethiopia is Africa’s hope and destiny. ”
When the Forces of Darkness seem invincible and we sometimes lost faith and felt downcast, we should let our spirits rise and be carried on Nkrumah’s prophetic words, “Ethiopia shall rise.”
As I read Nkrumah’s poem from May 1963, I also remember H.I.M. Haile Selassie’s speech before the United Nations General Assembly in October 1963.
In that speech, H.I.M. passionately defended the cause of Pan-Africanism and articulated the ideology needed for the ongoing struggle to protect and defend African independence and secure world peace:
… Until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; until there are no longer first class and second-class citizens of any nature; until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, and until the basic human rights are guaranteed to all without regard for race… the dream of lasting peace … will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained…. That until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and South Africa in subhuman bondages have been toppled and destroyed; until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding, tolerance and good-will; until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men as they are in Heaven — until that day the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil…
In a risen Ethiopia, there shall be no place for a philosophy that holds one ethnic, religious, linguistic or gender group superior to another.
In a risen Ethiopia, there shall no longer be first class and second-class citizens.
In a risen Ethiopia, ethnicity, religion, language, region or gender shall have no more significance than the color of one’s eyes.
In a risen Ethiopia, human rights shall be guaranteed to all.
The great African author Chinua Achebe wrote a book (Things Fall Apart) asking why things keep falling apart in Africa. Things fall apart in Africa because African “leaders” do not respect the human rights of their people. To paraphrase Achebe, “Africa is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be.” Few African leaders respect the dignity and humanity of their people. How can Africa rise when her leaders trip and make her fall every time, and keep her from rising up by pressing their boots on her neck.
But things that fall apart also come together and rise.
I ask, “Why do things fall apart in Ethiopia?” Things fall apart in Ethiopia because Ethiopia’s “leaders” do not respect the human rights of their people.
So, I present again my poem “Ethiopia Up-Rising” , which I wrote on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the OAU/African Union in May 2013.
Ethiopia up-Rising! Africa Rising!
Ethiopia Africa’s bright gem
Shall rise up from the ashes of tyranny
Like the spring sun rising at dawn over the African horizon
Like the full moon rising over the darkness of the African night
Ethiopia shall rise and shine!
Ethiopia shall rise from the heights of Ras Dejen
To the peaks of Kilimanjaro
From the pits of the politics of identity
To the summit of national unity and diversity
Ethiopia shall rise and shine!
Ethiopia of the wise
Shall rise above the streetwise
Its people to galvanize, mobilize and organize
To humanize, harmonize and compromise
Ethiopia shall rise and shine!
Ethiopia Africa’s hope and destiny
Shall rise and its tyrants shall fall
Their lies, cruelty and corruption
Buried with them in the steel coffin of history
For “justice will rise in Ethiopia like the sun, with abundance of peace forever.”
Ethiopia shall rise by the sinews of her youth
Up-rise on the wings of her persevering children
Ethiopia shall rise and rise
Her youth will up-rise
Rise Ethiopia, up-rise.
My personal message to PM Abiy
For years, I have talked about the rise of the Cheetah Generation.
Ethiopia is rising today because Ethiopia’s Cheetah (young) Generation has risen.
The young people have risen and as they rose, they lifted up Ethiopia. Behold Abiy Ahmed, Lemma Megerssa, Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, Nigist Yirga, Emawayish Alemu, Abubakar Ahmed, Okello Akway Ochalla, Demeke Zewdu, Abubaker Ahmed and so many other unsung young heroes and heroines building Ethiopia from the ground up so that she rise and shine.
My message to PM Abiy is this: You are doing a hellava job. Keep on keeping on. “A thousand-mile journey begins with the first step.” You are just taking your first steps on a thousand mile walk on the long road to freedom. But you are not walking alone. We are all walking with you. It does not matter if we are walking with you from ten thousand miles away. Let us all walk together under the Ethiopian sky.
Just keep walking. If you lead from the front, we got your back. If you lead from the back, you will find out we won’t back down, we’ll stand our ground against the Forces of the Dark Side.
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Back in my day, we used to sing: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow/ Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here/ It’ll be here better than before/ Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone/ Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow/ Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here/…”
I have heard you urging people in your town hall audiences to verify your statements by using the internet. Well, I am going to return the favor by asking you and all of my readers to listen to Margaret Singana’s song from South Africa “We are Growing” (full lyrics HERE), which to me means “We are rising. Ethiopia is rising! Higher and Higher…”
Be a man of kindness now
A man so big and strong in mind
Be a man so humble now
A man of man, now let it shine…
Let Ethiopia rise and shine like the sun over the African continent!
“Ethiopia shall rise…rise… Up-rise!