5:21 pm - Wednesday July 20, 2236

How I'm Made a Dissident, Emotional Man and Usual Suspect [BefeQadu Z. Hailu]

[WARNING: If a personal note bores you, don’t read this.]

BefeQadu Z. HailuI was 11 years old boy when EPRDF took power. As a kid, I had a confused feeling during the time the then ‘Woyane’ controlled Addis on Ginbot 20. During the nights before, we used to listen to ‘Dimtsi Woyane’, radio broadcasted by TPLF from battlefield. I remember the elderlies were very worried however I kind of loved the guys from what they, the Woyanes, spoke on the radio. In addition, my father, despite being a member of the then national guard in the Ethio-Somali border, had said he had wished ‘Derg’ to be defeated, or at least my sister had told me he had said so. Derg’s defeat wasn’t just my father’s dream come true for me. He also retired and reunited with his family.

Even though the ‘Woyanes’ were portrayed like monsters by the time they took control of Addis Ababa, I liked them. I stared at them wondering at their never cut hair, old shorts and sandals. I told a couple of them that ‘I love them’ when they come to our village for disarmament and search for illegal holds of arms.

Soon later, they are worn with good uniforms, and ‘kesikis’ shoes which I had wished to have a pair. Their name became popularly EPRDF and the ‘Woyane’ turned a derogatory term for ‘Derg’ propagandists already associated it with equivalence to ‘separatists’.

EPRDF took control of state owned and widely listened only radio station and preached a lot about democracy, national liberation, equal rights and so on. It was my formative age. Everything I listened to was sweet and persuasive. In contrary, the elderlies in our neighborhood became so critical of the new regime. I didn’t know why but I thought it was only because it is a government that EPRDF is hated and that only because newly formed opposition political parties are not given the governing chance, that they are preferred.

I didn’t know why people became more concerned about their ethnic background. Discussions of the older people seemed always as if there is something to be worried. I couldn’t get the slightest idea of what bothered them until I turned 18 and went with my father to ‘Kebele’ to get an ID. I was asked what my ‘nationality’ (not citizenship) was. I never felt belonging to any ethnic group before. I turned my face toward my father who took almost a minute to respond to. He looked like he lost an internal battle immediately after that. My mother and father are from different regions and it never mattered before. Until now, telling the ‘nationality’ written on my ID is embarrassing to me. I always felt it isn’t representative of my identity. It is like I’m legally forced to feel belonged to one group and not to the rest.

I’m from a very humble background, economically speaking. Some sort of bitterness source of which I didn’t figure out started growing in me against the regime of EPRDF. I worked as a day laborer (‘Gutter maintainer’) when I finished high school. It was when Addis started to boom in construction. I have witnessed buildings and real estates mushrooming. These real estates’ residents lifestyle comparison to the livelihoods in my neighborhood was significantly clear. Then, I stopped working there and joined college. I had needed pocket money and started home tutoring young adults of well to do families. I graduated from college and formed a cooperative association with my college mates. Even though, cooperatives were encouraged by the time we were founding that association, many doors in the offices of the ‘kebeles’ were closed to us because we were not involved as member of any league whose members the regime wants to promote.

It was no surprise that when I first become politically active that my most concerns were of economical. I worry about the ever growing economical gap, the corruption and the marketing system that is over controlled by the regime. Now, years later, these are the least of my worries. It is not because they are improving. They are even worsening. However, by the time I had to thrive, survival became the issue again as I became more endangered beyond my wishes for economic betterment.

Back in the most contested election of 2005, I have supported CUD, participated in its unforgettable mass demonstration in May 2005, voted for it, protested in streets when I believed the election was rigged. But, I never thought EPRDF was collection of people who will let us pay a lot, afterwards, as people for staying in power. In the post 2005 election anti-government protests, the regime’s forces killed my age-mate neighbor Lealem. The regime has made everything difficult to all of hardworking age-mates of mine in the poverty wrecked neighborhood, Ferensay Legasion.

With all the challenges I have faced and the efforts I have done, life isn’t any more difficult to survive but everything in it is meaningless. The family and families in the neighborhood that have raised me are still in that vicious cycle to survive in the poverty that I had grown in. The state rhetoric of economic growth couldn’t be convincing. The construction boom in my city feels like the wealth of the city belongs to someone else. I reflected only a few of my feelings in multiple blogs I have written.

Blogging has helped me think, revise my stances, rethink the sources of problems and engage in more than writing activities. Through blogging, I have come a long way. I’m a person with a developed or even maybe with a different ideology than the person who I was when I started blogging.

My bold activities, including blogging, against the regime’s officials’ impunity, its failing policies and unconstitutional acts cost me a lot already. Everything became personal but again, I did downplay it as if it is not personal. I was detained, tortured and charged with “terrorism” and held in prison for 544 days to finally get acquitted and forced to defend myself of downgraded charges of ‘inciting violence through writing’. The case is still on hearing in two courts: at the Federal High Court in defense of the downgraded charge and at the Supreme court with my colleagues because the Federal prosecutor appealed against our acquittal. To appear before two courts for a single case is against the procedural law of the country.

Life after imprisonment couldn’t be the same as before for my colleagues and myself. I have lost all the trust on the government’s either capacity or willingness to protect its people’s wellbeing. I have read a lot of government sponsored lies written on state-owned Addis Zemen newspaper against the Zone 9 blogging collective to which I am a co-founding member and to which we were targeted of ‘enemies of the government’. My friends and I are living a tragedy. We can’t be anywhere we want for we don’t have the luxury of being considered commoners, but dissidents from whom the government is looking a mistake to throw back to jail.

Some people tell me the countless migration of Ethiopians at risky routes is motivated by economic challenges; I say the economic challenge is the foster child of political failures. The same kind of people tell me prisoners were killed when they try to escape a prison that had caught fire; they also tell me people died in stampede during a protest in a religious festival where government in the country fired tear gas. I disagree because the cause of deaths in either incident is irresponsible acts of government forces. I don’t just blame the helpless victims. The attempt to justify such kind of things drives me emotionally mad. It drives me mad because it could have been me who has drowned in an ocean or who got executed by some terrorists in Sahara desert; it could have been me who has been burned down into ashes or who has been killed in the stampede. I feel the pain because I know it all comes to me yet before a while. And, I don’t hate (even like) my emotionality because it is what makes me human.

I get angry, then sad, then frightened. I became more vulnerable than before and more than an average person. This is the life of mine and my friends. We were raised in a way to end up dissidents. We are emotionally affected. In fact, we can’t have humanity without being emotional.

Now, the government in Ethiopia has declared a ‘state of emergency’ that lasts in six months. As ‘the usual suspects’ because of our dissents, my friends and I are scared more than before. It has always been a risky thing to criticize the government here. Furthermore, this declaration has given the government the right to arrest us even without an excuse. I’m publishing this personal note as a blog because I am afraid I may be arrested sometime soon. If so I want people read me and understand me. I want people to also understand my likes to understand the desperate protests in Ethiopia. It’s an attempt to survive as human with dignity.

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