Letter to a beloved daughter of Ethiopia (By Abebe Gellaw)

Dear my good friend Birtukan Mideksa, First and foremost, I would like to tell you how very proud and honored I feel to see you smile again warmly and heartedly wiping off all the tears and agonies of the past. Like a bird freed from the cruel confines of a cage, you are flying and singing again.

Your graduation from Harvard Kennedy School of Government after so much hard work is another milestone not only for you but also those of us who admire and hold you in high esteem for all the courageous sacrifices you have made in defence of freedom and justice. The qualities of greatness is not measured through the things you have achieved without difficulties and challenges.


Great success often comes after trials, tribulations, pains and tears. You have seen and tasted them all in those dark wintery days and none of them were able to define and hold you back from the risky and treacherous journey you have chosen through the valleys of death, tyranny, terror, injustice, abuse, false accusations and incarcerations in those horrible rat infested cells.

Life is full of ironies. On May 28, 2014 we woke up to the sad news that one of the world’s most beloved daughters passed away at the age of 84. Dr. Maya Angelou was not just an American giant but also a global citizen and a “phenomenal woman”, as she once described herself in one of her popular poems. She was a legendary author, a celebrated poem, a passionate activist, a humanist, among other things. She was a woman that fought for justice, freedom and equality. She was indeed a “phenomenal woman” who has given so much in the span of her colorful and blessed lifetime.

Like so many mourners across the world, I did not have a proper way to express my sadness over the loss of such a giant except repeating her own words on my Facebook page: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Yes, we Ethiopians, the victims of injustice and tyranny, may also forget and forgive what they said or did to us but we will never forget how they made us feel. We don’t also forget how they inhumanely abused, mistreated and made our heroes and heroines feel in their own country and in places of refuge across the oceans and mountains.

Just a day after the phenomenal woman passed away, you emerged from the gates of Harvard University with smiles that you had proudly wore during that epic year of 2005. You changed the mood of so many Ethiopians from gloom to bloom. For so many Ethiopians, you are also a phenomenal woman not because you got a degree from an Ivy League college but because you proved to the enemies of freedom and dignity that your spirit will never be broken. Your silence was even a potent revenge that proved right when you quietly emerged more matured, enlightened and educated. When you thrive and bloom, the hateful TPLF dictators, torture czars and their servants will certainly feel doom and gloom.

Dear Birtukane, It is a timely tribute to Dr. Angelou that you proved her message. She had said: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” You survived the worst days of your life and did it with so much passion, compassion and style.

As you know, so many things have happened since you got out of Kaliti prison. After you walked out of the notorious jails, Eskinder, Andualem, Reeyot, Bekele Gerba, bloggers, Muslim rights leaders, activists, dissidents, among the countless and nameless others, have been dragged in, shackled and locked up. And yet the most significant change is probably the silence and absence of Meles Zenawi, one of the worst few who ever walked in Ethiopia. In a twist of history, he is buried under the very country he tried to divide, destroy and break up. The brutal dictator, who put you in cages, in no more here to witness the fact that your spirit is unbreakable. He will no longer feel terrorized and threatened with your vision, dreams and successes.

Instead of being broken and depressed as he so desperately wished, you proved him wrong by being indomitable and invincible to his wicked schemes. It was so gracious of you when you chose to express your condolences upon the timely demise of the man who once taunted, tormented and tortured you and so many beloved daughters and sons of Ethiopia. This is a powerful lesson to those who can learn from the fact that there is an awesome and perfect judge ruling from the heavens. The Almighty judge we trust and believe in wipes the tears of the weak that appeal to him and punishes those that vainly try to damage and destroy the precious and beautiful souls he created in his own image. His unfailing judgement is perfect and mysterious.

To be honest with you, I believe that the lessons you have gained through your struggle for justice and freedom that led you through the valleys of pains and suffering are more valuable than the lessons you learned in the textbooks of Harvard. Those hard lessons are unforgettable and life changing. Unfortunately, countless others are experiencing the excruciating pains and so many are killed in cold blood. We should all never relent until injustice and tyranny become history like the tyrants that are dropping dead in the middle of their illusion to crush every little voice and soul forever.

Throughout my entire life, I have never participated in a democratic election to choose those who must serve the people of Ethiopia like polite and loyal servants. Sooner or later, all of us, the true sons and daughters of Ethiopia that just aspire to be treated fairly like ordinary citizens in our country will be able to cast our vote. When the time comes, I promise that I will vote for public servants like you who have paid incalculable but unforgettable price so that others will live in peace, freedom and dignity.

My beloved friend, I am very lucky to have talked to you for so many hours and listened to you with keen interest. Your stories are compelling and your cause is holy. I have understood not only your words but your inner feelings and desire for freedom and dignity. I have no words sufficient enough to describe the depth of your love for your people and country.

Unlike a few others, I do not judge you from afar. But I can clearly share your vision for Ethiopia and its people. Yes, this great country will rise again. It has been proven throughout our long history. Ethiopia has risen on countless occasions from the rubbles of history even during the most atrocious and treacherous times. It has prevailed over colonial masters, slave traders, fascists, invaders and home-grown dictators.

In our last conversation, you and me have agreed on the inevitability of a historically proven fact. Ethiopia will rise again!We will rise like the sun that breaks out of the dark clouds warmly smiling and shining. We shall never, never doubt that we will rise. We will learn from the mistakes of the past and claim the future for generations to come. We will never be defeated unless we doubt the inevitability of our rise.

Dear Birtukan, Thank you for the phenomenal rise defeating the spirits of terror and fear that haunted you in the dark hours and the nightmares they deliberately created in your mind to destroy your intimidating confidence. You are a truly phenomenal woman that must continue to fight in the battles we have not yet finished. Thank you Birtu-Kahn! Your wings are no more clipped. Rise, rise, fly and soar as high as you can. I also wish wish to see the rise of the visionary young men and women you have helped inspire.

Before I conclude, I find no better words to encapsulate the feelings I expressed above to you than the poem of the late phenomenal woman, Dr. Maya Angelou:

Still I rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

The writer can be reached at abe.gelaw@gmail.com

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