April 2, ….
I, my wife, our 9 year old daughter and 7 year old boy are taking off the Ethiopian after a 13 hour flight from Washington DC. For our children this was their most important trip. They were 1 and 3 year olds when we first visited Addis together.
It was a comfy flight but our daughter kept asking nonstop questions about Ethiopia and most of which were directed to me.
I was dozing off when she said,
‘Daddy, I am excited to see Ethiopia
I am excited to see my nephews and nieces
Grand ma and dad.
But do you know who I am excited to see the most? ‘
She got me curious.
‘The riverside in Addis. I want to go to the park. Would you drive us from Entoto to Akakai ?’
Of course we will see that.
I reassured her. I wanted to see it myself. When the prime minister proposed his “The Beatifying Sheger ” project within few months of coming to power, I though it will just be a dream and won’t be completed. It was a billion birr project. He pulled it off. We heard it has become a tourist attraction and no wonder my daughter has seen the video on YouTube.
‘Daddy, what does Sheger mean ?’
It is another name for Addis.
Does Addis has other names other than Sheger ?
Finfine in Oromigna
‘Daddy, why do you only teach us Amharic, we want to know Oromigna ,Tigrigna, Guragigna.’
I would love you both to learn Oromigna. It is a beautiful language but I missed the opportunity to learn it well when I was at a medical school in Jimma.
She was visibly upset that we didn’t make effort to learn major Ethiopian languages and yet we are fluent in English and try to learn Spanish.
Our boy finished the inflight entertainment Ethiopian move that caught his attention and joined our conversation. My wife is trying to sleep and nudged me to keep our voice down. An elderly woman on the flight who was sitting just behind us peeked her head and asked if the kids have seen Awassa.
‘No they haven’t. They were kids last time we visited Ethiopia and it was not safe to visit Awassa.
‘Everything is peaceful now.’ She said loudly and continued.
‘The whole country is peaceful now. The first two years was difficult for the prime minister but he made bold decisions and sailed the ship despite the turbulence.’
“It was not the prime minister alone. It is Team Lemma.” That was from the passenger next to her.
All were visibly happy.
Soon, the flight attendants started getting us some snacks. The children were nicely distracted. I used the moment to take a nap.
‘Dadda, daddy, what is it that the prime minister did that made the country peaceful? ‘
That is a good question I said to my boy and tried to explain to him. In 2018 and 2019 the country was in a difficult transition. It was almost slipping in to an ethnic based civil war like Rwanda. You guys were kids but we were all concerned and tuned ourselves to daily news outlets. Especially your mother was busy listening to the Ethiopian Television, ESAT, OMN, Zehabesha, and many other news outlets including the print media. The country’s elites were fighting an ideological war. Unlike today the country was divided among 8 ethnic based regions and one multi ethnic region, southern people and nationalities. There were elites who believed that ethnic and language based regional divisions was better for Ethiopia given its many ethnic nature and historic grievances while others felt that it would be difficult to build modern democracy in an ethnic based administrative divisions and that can lead to ethnic conflicts. The latter group mention Kenya as an example. Kenya is also multi ethnic multi linguistic society but the political parties were not based on ethnic groups. At the time Kenya was also ahead of us in terms of democracy even if they also had their short comings.
‘Daddy, what is our ethnic group?’ Asked my daughter.
We are mixed. Between me and your mother we have every major ethnic group so we call ourselves of Ethiopian decent. All your aunts and uncles are also intermarried. I want to tell you both however that it is now illegal to ask one’s ethnicity so be careful; don’t get us in trouble.
‘Like Rwanda ?’
Yes like Rwanda. Thanks to the Prime Minister who followed the footsteps of Rwanda to ban it but took many years to implement it. Ethnic identity was embedded in every civilian discourse for three decades in Ethiopia.
My wife was upset that I have engaged our children in heavy political languages that they barely understood. I wasn’t only talking to them. The couple who sat in front of us had joined the discussion when I mentioned Kenya. They were both from Kenya and were curious.
The flight attendants started picking up trash and interrupted our discussion for a moment.
I continued. At first the prime minister appeared undecided but when I look back he was just getting everyone come along with him. He was ahead of everyone and had to wait for others to catch up. He had many challenges and resistance from the very same party he was elected to lead. He was not alone. There were many journalists and scholars who warned about the impending ethnic conflict and its tragic consequences. I remember grand ma how worried she was and like many mothers kept praying.
‘Daddy, why do you say prime minister? Isn’t he a president?’
Well, he was a prime minister then. He unified his party in to a multi-national one and minimized the role of ethnic based parties. He convinced the major players to change the constitution to a presidential system and won handily.
‘Like the USA?’
Yes like the USA.
“I wish he banned ethnic based parties”, said the lady behind us.
It is democracy. I said. The country can’t close its doors to any opinion but as long as the majority are not coerced to follow those opinions.
The Kenyan woman followed when I paused.
“You guys are lucky. The youngest prime minister in Africa has made a tremendous contribution to the whole Africa. In the past 6-7 years since he came to power, he has made progress in integrating the horn of Africa, pushed Eritrea to democracy, South Sudan is at peace with itself, has helped the democratic transition in Sudan, and has created a win –win situation with Egypt. The completion of the hydroelectric power on the Nile has lit the whole region.”
The kids have slept once they realize that the adults are taking the conversation seriously.
Are you guys transiting or going to visit Addis?
“We are headed to watch the African Nations cup. Kenya is in group D along with Gabon and Burundi. They are playing in Lekemte stadium, Wolega region. The group stage is played in many cities including Jijiga, Awassa, Jimma, Metu… The quarter final is in Mekele. The semifinal is in Bahir Dar. Addis is hosting the final.”
I had no idea that the country was selected to host the cup.
Where will you be staying?
“It is a five star hotel. It is only a short drive from the stadium.”
I couldn’t wait to check it out. It will only be a short flight from Addis; a weekend trip.
The captain was overhead announcing the final decent.
The landing was smooth.
A sign welcomed us to the new mega million international airport in Bishoftu!
We picked up our luggage and took a high speed train to the city of Addis, Sheger, Finfine as they all used interchangeably and affectionately. We checked in our condo that we still paying for using diaspora financing initiative the country introduced at the new luxurious La Gare multi-complex development next to my childhood home, Sengatera.
The country has become one!
Daddy, daddy , daddy , wake up it is the roosters crowing.
April 3, 2025!