Unarmed Truth and Unconditional Love (Reconciliation): Dr. Martin Luther King’s Message to Ethiopians Today [Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam]

Author’s Note:  Earlier this week, Americans celebrated what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 89th birthday.

I believe it is timely to reflect on Dr. King’s lifelong message of nonviolence, peace, reconciliation in the context of Ethiopia’s dire crises today and building of a new Beloved Ethiopian Community .

In Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger, war, violence and other similar evils have no place in society because global consciousness and morality will not allow them. In the Beloved Community, conflict and disputes will be resolved by peaceful means among adversaries in a reconciliation process. In the Beloved Community, trust trumps fear. Ttruth is spoken to power. The divinity in humanity is cherished. Bigotry is replaced with tolerance and understanding. Bitterness and hate are purged through self-purification to achieve harmony. Human rights correct government wrongs. Dr. King wrote, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

It is sad that Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community today remains a dream, a tattered one. War and violence are everywhere. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, corruption, environmental destruction, human rights violation and poverty continue to rear their ugly heads.

But the struggle to build the Beloved Community is a never-ending labor of love. It must go on without pause or rest.

In his book “Stride Towards Freedom”, Dr. King wrote, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.  Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels inevitability.  Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.  Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction.  This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

I believe this is the right “time for vigorous and positive action” in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s Cheetahs (young people) are making the ultimate sacrifices, suffering torture in prisons in untold numbers. They are angry and hungry. They yearn to be free, free from an ethnic apartheid system. They understand they can only save themselves,  and change and progress will not be delivered to them on a silver platter.

I consider myself a follower of Dr. King and proselytizer of his philosophy of nonviolence and truth. In many of my commentaries, I have invoked or quoted his wisdom. In my January 2015 commentary, “When will You Be Satisfied”, I examined a rhetorical question Dr. King posed in his “I Have a Dream Speech” in August 1963.

African struggles inspired Dr. King and Dr. King’s work should inspire Ethiopians today  

Dr. King believed colonial oppression in Africa and racial oppression in America brought Africans and African Americans closer together. He saw their struggles mirroring each other.

Few people are aware that Dr. King was deeply inspired by the anti-colonial struggles of Africans. In December 1965, in a speech on Human Rights Day, Dr. King said, “The civil rights movement in the United States has derived immense inspiration from the successful struggles of those Africans who have attained freedom in their own nation’s. The fact that black men govern States, are building democratic institutions, sit in world tribunals, and participate in global decision-making gives every Negro a needed sense of dignity.”

Dr. King later recounted how he felt when he learned he would be going to Ghana in an interview:

… the minute I knew I was coming to Ghana I had a very deep emotional feeling, I’m sure. Thinking of the fact that a new nation was being born symbolized something of the fact that a new order is coming into being and an old order is passing away. So that I was deeply concerned about it. And I wanted to be involved in it, and be a part of it, and notice the birth of this new nation with my own eyes. So that is why I’m here.

In April 1957, in a sermon entitled “The Birth of a New Nation”, at Dexter Baptist Church, Dr. King preached a sermon that should carry a strong message to Ethiopians:

… Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressedYou have to work for it. And if Nkrumah and the people of the Gold Coast had not stood up persistently, revolting against the system, it would still be a colony of the British Empire. Freedom is never given to anybody, for the oppressor has you in domination because he plans to keep you there, and he never voluntarily gives it up. And that is where the strong resistance comes—privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance.

So don’t go out this morning with any illusions. Don’t go back into your homes and around Montgomery thinking that the Montgomery City Commission and that all of the forces in the leadership of the South will eventually work out this thing for Negroes. It’s going to work out; it’s going to roll in on the wheels of inevitability. If we wait for it to work itself out, it will never be worked out. Freedom only comes through persistent revolt, through persistent agitation, through persistently rising up against the system of evil…  We’ve got to keep on keeping on in order to gain freedom. It never comes like that. It would be fortunate if the people in power had sense enough to go on and give up, but they don’t do it like that. It is not done voluntarily, but it is done through the pressure that comes about from people who are oppressed. (Emphasis added.)

In 1965, Dr. King was acutely aware of the fact that we lived in “an era in which the issue of human rights is the central question confronting all nations.” He challenged the “incendiary words of the South African philosophy spoken by its Prime Minister, Dr. Verwoerd: ‘We want to keep South Africa white. Keeping it white can only mean one thing, namely, white domination, not ‘leadership’, not ‘guidance’, but control, supremacy.’”

Dr. King was talking about white minority racial apartheid.

Do his words apply equally to black ethnic minority apartheid regime in Ethiopia where one group has total and complete control and domination of the politics, economics, military, security and bureaucratic institutions?

What is the relevance of Dr. King’s civil rights message to the human rights struggle in Ethiopia today?

The growl of Ethiopia’s Cheetahs (young people) 

Dr. King insisted nonviolence is not cowardice or passive idealism, but a practical and pragmatic method of conflict resolution and resolving differences.

In “Strides Toward Freedom”, wherein he sets his basic principles of nonviolence, Dr. King wrote, “it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist… While the nonviolent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent, his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade his opponent that he is wrong. The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive nonresistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.”

That is why I believe Ethiopia’s young people who are standing up nonviolently to the the Thugtatorship of Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) and demanding, “Give me liberty or give me death” are the most courageous people in the world. They understand Gandhi’s maxim that “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Their will to free from an ethnic apartheid system is unstoppable,  irrepressible.

In 1968, Dr. King gave a speech at a high school. He said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.  And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”

For the past several years, young Ethiopians – those in high schools and colleges and others— have been protesting, demonstrating, dying and going to jail because their cries have been unheard.

I believe the protests, demonstrations, acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance of Ethiopia’s young people today represent the growl of unheard Cheetahs.

What are Ethiopia’s Cheetahs growling for?

The T-TPLF has been tone deaf to the young people’s cries for equal opportunity, for jobs, for quality education, for health care, for freedom to speak their minds and use their creative faculties and energies. They are told the country is growing by “double digits” and they are falling behind by triple digits. They have no voice in the way they are governed.

That growl is now sounding more and more like the metaphorical youth ticking bomb in every hamlet, town and city throughout the country.

Ethiopia’s young people should have no illusion about the Wounded Beast and the Ethiopian Beauty. The Wounded Beast will never, never voluntarily give Beautiful Ethiopia her freedom.

That is why Ethiopia’s Cheetahs must continue to engage in persistent revolt, persistent agitation and persistently resist, disobey and rise up against the TPLF Wounded Beast.

They must know that the Wounded Beast has feet of clay.

I have always had the great respect and admiration for Ethiopia’s youth struggling for their freedom.

They live in a place of wrath and tears, yet they are unafraid. Their heads are bludgeoned but unbowed. Their souls are tormented but remains unconquerable.  They are masters of their fate and captains of Ethiopia’s destiny.

They are Ethiopia’s Cheetahs Invictus.

They have done it all with the most powerful weapon  in the world: Nonviolence.

Unarmed truth and unconditional love

In his 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Dr. King said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

There are those who say Dr. King used the phrase “unarmed truth” to refer to truth-seeking or acquisition without arms or violence.

I believe he used the phrase to simply describe the need to tell the naked truth, the unvarnished, simple and pure truth about evils in society.

In his April 1967 sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, “It’s a Dark Day in Our Nation”, Dr. King talked about the “truth” in the Vietnam War and other global conflicts. He said it “has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war” and the “truth is hard to come by in international conflicts because most nations are deceived about themselves.” He declared, “He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. ‘Ye shall know the truth,’ says Jesus, ‘and the truth shall set you free.’”

Thus, the truth is the foundation of freedom, love, peace, harmony, justice, democracy and reconciliation.

In his 1967 speech, “The Other America”, at Stanford University, he said “there something that truth impels all men of good will to admit” about racial inequality in America. In that speech, he also talked about how we shall overcome by practicing unconditional love and reconciliation.

We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward Justice… No lie can live forever… Truth crushed to earth will rise again… Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne — Yet that scaffold sways the future… With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope… transform the jangling discourse of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and live together as brothers and sisters, all over this great nation. That will be a great day, that will be a great tomorrow.

There is today, “The Other Ethiopia”. It is an Ethiopia fragmented into ethnic homelands. It is an Ethiopia where minority rule has triumphed over majority rule. It is an Ethiopia where might makes right. It is an Ethiopia where one’s ethnicity is more important than one’s character or ability. It is an Ethiopia where government wrongs have triumphed over human rights.

There is something that truth impels all Ethiopians of good will to admit and proclaim about an evil police state system where ethnic supremacy and inequality are the laws of the land.

There can be no future for Ethiopia framed in lies, damned lies and statislies.

Truth in Ethiopia cannot hang at the end of the hangman’s noose nor liars remain perched on the throne forever.

But with truth-based reconciliation, faith in our enduring and everlasting Ethiopiawinet, we can finally transform the jangling discourse of Ethiopia into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood and sisterhood.

With truth-based reconciliation, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children — Oromos, Amharas, Tigreans, Gurages, Somalis, Afaris, Christians, Muslims and all others — will be able to join hands and live together as brothers and sisters all over Ethiopia.

That will be a great day in Ethiopia. That will be a great tomorrow for Ethiopia.

That great day has arrived. It is TODAY!  

Dr. King often dreamt about the “Beloved Community” of unconditional love. In his Beloved Community, poverty, violence, injustice and racism in all its forms will not be tolerated. Disputes would be resolved by “creating a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation”.

In Dr. King’s “Beloved Community”, negotiation is not about one-upmanship, gamesmanship, showmanship or brinksmanship. It is simply about truth and reconciliation. The negotiators are guided by a single principle. Find the truth and the way to reconciliation will be opened to you.

The negotiation to create the Beloved Ethiopian Community is fully underway now in Ethiopia. Ethiopians are reaching out to each other across religious, ethnic, regional and linguistic lines. The negotiation is not between good and evil. It is between good people working together to get rid of an evil system in Ethiopia.

Everything is negotiable except the truth. The truth about an evil system that thrives on man’s inhumanity to man and makes man wolf to man must be exposed, condemned and forever banished to the trash heap of history.

Dr. King wrote, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

How long? Eske Meche (እስከ መቼ!)?

In a March 1965 speech at conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March, Dr. King spoke about the importance of practicing nonviolence and the arrival of the Freedom Train.

It was the same Freedom Train that Langston Hughes so poetically yearned: Freedom Train/ I heard on the radio about the/ Freedom Train/ I seen folks talking about the/ Freedom Train/ Lord, I’ve been a-waitin’ for the/ Freedom Train!… /…..Then I’ll shout, Glory for the/ Freedom Train!/ I’ll holler, Blow your whistle,/ Freedom Train!/ Thank God-A-Mighty! Here’s the Freedom Train!/ Get on board our Freedom Train!

Dr. King told the exhausted crowd:

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?”

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.”

How long? Not long, because “you shall reap what you sow.”

How long, eske meche (እስከ መቼ!) will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the dirt roads in the countryside and the highways be lifted and the hearts and minds of every Ethiopian healed?

Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!

How long, eske meche (እስከ መቼ!) before the truth crushed to earth rise up again in Ethiopia?

Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!

When will the dark cloud of oppression be lifted from the Ethiopian skies and the sun return to the Land of 13 Months of Sunshine?

Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!

How long will justice be crucified in Ethiopia, and truth bear it?

Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!

How long before Ethiopia is free from the yoke of ethnic apartheid?

Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!

We shall overcome!

We – all Ethiopians from north to south, east to west — dressed in our resplendent regalia of green, yellow and red ETHIOPIAWINET shall overcome because truth forever will not hang from the scaffold nor wrong forever sit on the throne forever in OUR BELOVED ETHIOPIA!

እልም አለ ባቡሩ: ኢትዮጵያዎንችን  ይዞ በሙሉ!

Everybody, get on board the Ethiopian Freedom Train!





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