By Zelalem Kibret
From Kilinto prison, Addis Ababa Ethiopia
O! The mighty reminiscence! Of all the thoughts nothing is more haunting than reminiscence. When I read, walk; sleep — in all of my daily routines I recall yesterday. Yesterday as if it is painted by one of the renaissance realist painters. Those yesterdays are here facing me virtually, if Raphael and Titan meets for a team work and puts those yester times in a big canvas.
How you doing comrades? You might be confused by my word choice of comrade. I got you Yes, our (me and you) formal relationship was a ‘Master’ pupil, ‘teacher – Student’, ‘Boss – Subordinate ‘ relationship. I am not comfortable with such hierarchical dichotomy. Rather, we were friends. I think we are still friends but, from afar and I hope our friendship will blossom by tomorrow. Hence, our bond of relationship is the rationale behind my choice, comrade (with all its political connotations) instead of something else.
Comrades, since my departure from the scene that is common for both of us, I know some of you are done with your formal schooling and I know that some of you are still counting your orders in the main dish, please consider my humble wishes. For those who are done with your time in school, I wish a good time of preparation for the sequel. For those who are still struggling in school, have a wonderful fight.
Friends, if you remember we used to have a term of relationship, which put us in a promise to get together in the classroom. Regrettably, I am the one who fails to fulfill my promise but, forgivably. I say, forgivably. Because it is not I rather tyranny that should take the blame. Dictatorship is the hurdle that set us apart. It is the state which is the sinner. I fail to keep my words of promise because of a force majeure called despotism.
A short summery of what happens to me may give you the excuses to forgive me for my incompliance with terms of our promise.
Hundreds of days back out of the blue I was arrested for a suspicion of felony, that eventually turned to be a crime of preparation and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism. However, the charge was not a simple matter as I mentioned. Rather, I passed through a prolonged medieval-like ordeal or as ‘they’ called it ‘interrogation’. Finally I end up in a remand center which have thousands of ‘detainees -of – conscience’. Even if it is laughable but, the crime that I am accused of is neither bail able nor an easy thing to face. Since I face capital punishment if I fall in the ‘convicted’ basket. So, comrades ain’t my failure to fulfill our promise forgivable?
Addendum: let me know you something extra about the situation that I live, if it helps me to get your piety of forgiveness;
Since my departure from the chalk and talk I never saw the sunset. Because I am a detainee who should be roll-called before the sunset.
My privacy has gone with the wind of April, since I am a detainee who lives with hundred plus detainees in one cell.
Fellow friends, you have no idea about how a day in prison is vicious. The viciousness of the day is like dancing the same, with the same rhythm and in the same dance floor, day-in-day-out. I am a detainee who is dancing this ‘Sisyphusic’ dance in a minute base. Save my trail to dilute the viciousness of the day by the virtuous souls.
The depression that resulted from counting the plight of my love, my friends and my families is so immense. Because I am a detainee who have nothing to do for them. Again save my trial to console myself with a thought of how I am lucky to be expired to this prison environment and its population.
Comrades, the types of book that I have to read, the utensils that I have to use, even my hair-style and shoe-type must be ‘proper’, which fulfils the remand center’s regulation. Because I am a detainee.
Thus, comrades, in consideration of such ill facts of my life and how my life is digressed from its normal course, how could an inmate who lives in such a situation which limitation is a rule fulfills his promise of coming to the class room? How could a man who is in chain live to his terms of promise? I hope I got your forgiveness.
The Roman jurist and philosopher, Cicero upon his Critic of the state says:
“The Republic is oppressed with arms and enfeebled by slavish fear. So it has no Power to innovate the free spirit”.
It seems present day Ethiopia is the incarnation of the republic that Cicero is critical of voices muzzled. Thinkers exiled and dissenters incarcerated. This is the situation that bewildered me. What is wrong with us comrades? Why the Free spirit is chained and cuffed? Why oppression exist in a continuum? Why fear reign, democracy manacled and the gun is the domineering player of the entire player? Why today looks like a Siamese twin of yesterday?…
Comrades, my list of whys about our nations illness is bottomless. I hope yours too. However, I feel that the answer/s for our quests is/are not bottomless; even it can be a single one. And the very question is what could be that panacea?
Out of those numerous thought wonderings, sometimes I stopped somewhere and start to feel that the problem of our nation lies on the ‘Clash of Generations’! I know it seems naive to think so. But, it is not something we have to ignore. My wandering result a question of is our country suffer because of the ‘Clash of Generations’ for ideas, for principles or for power?
Scott Fitzgerald in his ‘This Side Of Paradise’ puts the mission of ‘his’ generation eloquently as ‘our generation had grown up to find all gods deal, all wars fought and all faiths in mankind’ Yes every generation, perished or breathing have its own generational mission.
Ethiopia can’t be an anomaly in this regard. Each Ethiopian generation had its own generational mission some proved trans-generational and some other proved futile and abortive.
Upon the 1991 regime change in Ethiopia one of the prominent Ethiopia economists, Eshetu Chole puts the chance and hope of his generation as;
“History was giving us another chance to redeem two opportunities in less than a generation is a privilege seldom granted to a people; squandering both of them is a crime that will not be forgiven by posterity”
(Quoted in Tefera Degefe’s ‘minutes of an Ethiopian century’)
Poor Eshetu! We in the posterity are witnessing the second chance squandered flatly. But comrades, can’t we forgive the squanderers of the second chance in a generation? I hope we can. For a reason that we in the posterity should have something in excel than those who doomed the chance friends, might -have-been must leave its place for a by-gone is by-gone state of mind. I hope you are in my side.
A generation which misuse and abuse those two golden chances (As Eshetu mentioned) are still in the throne. And hunting the ‘Free spirit’ to death. Thus, we are not able to live our dreams and the spirit of our generation. But, by saying this I am not fool to dichotomize the problem in a ‘we’ and ‘then’ spectrum. Rather there are many ‘wes’ in them and the vice-verse.
When my generational clash thesis paled and blurred my puzzle reinvent itself and again forced me to ask if the problem is not a generational disparity, where its lies? Generation passed and Generation come but, those common denominators; turbines and trembling, the sound of the midnight knock, arbitrary arrest and summary execution, the feeling of the muzzle in the back, the sword in the nape, the cuff in the hand and that weird sound of ‘hands-in-the-air’ remains to live with us.
Comrades in those good-old class session side talks, we talk about a lot of things. But, I don’t remember about raising this grand issue of why we as a nation condemned to live in a state of terror? If we already talked about it take this note as a reminder, If not please think over it for the sake of our comradeship.
(By the way, when I am writing this, I am not about whether ‘they’ initiate a new criminal change against me for a ‘crime’ of inciting students to think. Because the state that we are living is a state that proclaims right as wrong, righteousness as wrong doing and the gun-bearer as the peace-lover.)
Sisters and brothers, to sum-up I am saying that our good nation is in a swamp of problems. To give answer for those problems first we have to identify the problems in a solvable manner. But my puzzle lies here, what are those problems? I mean the extent of the complexities makes the problem headless and tailless. Spotting the head and the tail of our problem is a mission that our generation shouldered. If we are done with that my state of bewilderment will be resolved.
Here the remand center of our cells have high windows that I developed a habit of staring to the darkness in the night time. Six months after my incarceration something beautiful happened via those windows. A full snow-white moon glares in those windows. Yes Jelaluddin Rumi was right when he said ‘The moon won’t use the door, only the window’. A sight of the moon after a long wait was something new for me comrades. Because I am a prisoner. But that is what I called ‘Hope’, to wait and to see the moon. A lone awaited dream fulfilled.
Comrades, we are living in a state which employed a policy of ‘blood and iron’ in a form of ‘arrest and pardon’. In such a state freedom is omnipresent and dissent costs a lot of price, hope is the only shelter to hide.
After examining many failed human life projects, the sixth century Greek poet Theogins Megara concludes as ‘Hope is the only good god remains among mankind’, By now, I can’t say Megara was wrong.
I used to despise hope as a weapon of the weaklings. Even I was dare enough to say ‘is audacious about hope. Rather hope is overrated.’ I remember my feeling after reading Alber Camus’s double edged blow to hope and hopelessness as ‘Humans must learn to live beyond hope and hopelessness’ on his ‘the myth of Sisyphus’ which I endorsed.
Now I realize that it was one of my regrettable stances. Now I am re-reading Sisyphus’s story in a different state of mind I mean even Sisyphus, a poor creature who was condemned to do the something, forever, was hopeful for change in his life.
I know my present state of living is temporal. Thus, while Sisyphus who is condemned eternally was hopeful, why not me?
Friends, one of the ‘joy’ of prison is the plenty of time that you have to think, thanks to my detention, I got the time to audit the last ten thousand day that I live in flesh and blood. (By the way, funnily I was arrested in the week that I was celebrating the tenth thousand day of my life, if I am not mistaken). And my auditing should that there is nothing hopeless about the future.
In the state that I stand by now, even if I understand the situation of hopelessness. Rather again and after Patrick Henery’s brave state of questioning as. ‘If life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?’ is echoing in my ears, as if I were one of the attendants when Henery speaks.
Comrades, I am nostalgic of everything, the sessions, what we talk, even the greeting. My hope is that we will meet again. Upon my farewell Theognis Megara is here again saying ‘As long as many lives and sees the light of the sun, let him … count on hope.’ Yes, as long as our comradery exist, let us count on hope.
O! Tyranny what a loser are you!? Whatever you are doing, for us there is hope and reminiscence!