Thursday, October 25, 2012

Teddy Afro a hero? : a reflection on freedom of speech and the future of Ethiopia

Recently two major events have triggered me to have a closer look at broader issues than rural areas in Ethiopia and start off the concept of wildcard in my blog, these are blog posts with opinion pieces that do not relate to rural areas.
Firstly, i lost an Ethiopian friend who felt offended because of a facebook post, in which i was questioning the source of the money for all the new huge flat screens in Addis Ababa airport (where there is no money for toilet paper or soap or decent wages) showing only the defunct minister president Meles and praising him. I still don't understand what is offending when I ask about where the money comes from, but i was told to keep freedom of speech for my own people, and not express my opinion in Ethiopia (sorry, this is just a trigger to look more closely at it and report about it). The second event is Teddy Afro's concert this week end, in which he clearly called upon people to not shut up! A pretty amazing event, i hope to put into perspective in this post.
Teddy Afro @Ghion
Still today, months after the funeral, Meles pictures are everywhere in Addis praising a great visionary man. To European eyes this Meles cult is just strange and difficult to understand. There is no doubt, MP Meles has been an amazing man who has done a great job in fighting poverty, in sustaining economic growth, getting foreign aid or in implementing food safety net ( Despite of these positive aspects, i think one should not look away, many webpages are blocked in Ethiopia (i could not access Al Jazeera website anymore for at least a month when Meles passed away), it is said that dissidents are in prison for nothing, some people have died in very suspicious car accidents... Also international news (BBC, Aljazeera, the Economist) gave very good retrospective on who Meles was, his great achievements and his shadow sides (an example is
As Meles passed away, there was a window of opportunity for change, but nothing really changed, no later than yesterday i read in the local news paper that the parliament has refused among others to take freedom of speech, the future of dissents on to the agenda (The Capital). Today's Ethiopia, despite of the recent MP change, is felt by many to be ruled by a elitist minority ethnic group leaving the majority out, and a country in which one is not allowed to express one's opinion. (Interestingly, the new MP Haile Sesalegn said in an interview with the Reporter that there is no reason to be afraid to speak up in Ethiopia, it is all in people's minds : so let's see how long my blog will be accessible from Ethiopia).
Teddy Afro @Ghion

But the time has come for a change, rather than look back and cry for a man that did good and bad, it is time to look forward. Ethiopia is a country full of potentials. It is the water tower of Africa, it can produce energy, it has fertile soils which could feed the world if water was well managed. Rather than importing manufactured goods, Ethiopia could enhance small manufacturing enterprises, moving slowly it mainly agricultural population into more small industries, developing the economy even further. There are plenty of young people looking for new opportunities.
the crowd at Ghion
Also Ethiopia has inherited an amazing culture and traditions. Building a future for this country means to understand the past (unpolished) history to keep and cherish its fundamental value. But by no means this implies being stuck in the past, as it sometimes seems when one crosses this country. One needs to be able to do the subtle steps between modernity and tradition. More freedom is needed to give creative space to people to discover how modernity can be combined with these traditional values. What Ethiopia needs is not a revolution but an aware society that can love its traditions but is not afraid of speaking up, of re-adjusting the traditions to emerging challenges, of pointing at what could be improved : a society seeking for new ways on how to go further as a united country in which all ethnic groups deserve equal respect and equal rights. This country needs people with the feeling of owning their own future and fate. Only a freer Ethiopia will allow to unlock the potentials that this country and its individual have.

This week end, Teddy Afro, the most popular Ethiopian singer gave an open air concert at Ghion hotel, in Addis Ababa with the title "the road to love". The whole concert was about love, but not only about love between a man and a woman, but also about his love for Ethiopia. He is a proud christian orthodox, but calls upon unity between Christians and Muslim and between ethnic groups. "We have gone through so many things together, but now i am afraid of what i see...". He also worries about the current economic situations and Ethiopia's dependency on aid "our soils can be so green, so why are we hungry?". He is calling for a change "We should not re-write history we should make history".
My movies from Teddy's concert, with some translations (made by my friends)

Teddy has been in prison some years ago officially for having created a car accident. But it is said that the real reason was his song "ah Yastesereyal" in which he says "after a fight of 17 years (the Derg regime), a new king came (Meles), but nothing has changed". It is also said that officials have forbidden him to sing this song in public. Saturday night, the most incredible thing happened : after 5 years of silence, Teddy stood in the middle of the stage in Addis Ababa and sung this song. The crowd literally went wild, and all my Ethiopian friends had this incredible light of hope in their eyes. Is it a hint to show us that despite of the recent events, nothing has changed in Ethiopia? Or is it just the announcement that a new era for Ethiopia is starting?

For me, like for many of my Ethiopian friends, Teddy is just a hero. He manages to mobilize 15000 people at Ghion hotel (without promising any benefits or using any kind of social pressure),  and millions of others who could not afford the ticket or the trip to Addis Ababa and spread his message of love, pride, unity, hope and fears for a better Ethiopia in a complex and changing society. It reminds me a bit of the Russian rock groups like Kino or DDT, whose song have shaped the spirit of young people during the perostroika time and called upon the young people to take their fate unto their own hands. Furthermore, Teddy manages this incredibly subtle steps back  and forward between modernity and tradition, being a proud "African from the shores of the Nile" and not closing eyes on what could be better in his country. He took his freedom to sing a very controversial song, with this strong message to all of us to not look away to not shut up but move on towards a united and freer future. In Ethiopia, time has come to "create history rather than re-writing it".

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