Sunday, July 12, 2020
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Prime Minister Abiy: Offending Black Americans

By Faisal Roble

In an outlandish round of bazar comments, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia argued that Blacks in America “failed” to take advantage of the rights given to them two hundred years ago. Contrast this lazy comment by the Prime Minister to what America’s finest Black writer, James Baldwin, wrote in a revealing essay in 1963 at the height of the civil rights era:

PM Abiy Ahmed

“This world is White and “White people hold the power, which means that they are superior to blacks (intrinsically, that is: God decreed it so), and the world has innumerable ways of making this difference known and felt and feared. Long before the Negro child perceives this difference, and even longer before he understands it, he has begun to react to it, he has begun to be controlled by it.”

Listening to PM Abiy’s videotaped comments only days after George Floyd was murdered by a white policeman in Minneapolis, whose gory images prompted even privileged whites to reexamine their “White Fragility,” as explored by Robin DeAngelo, was hurtful and offensive.

To say the least, it hurts more when the son of an Oromo, risen from a humble background to the pinnacle of power in the second largest African country, embraces a distorted world view of history that is inconsistent either with his own painful past or with Black experience worldwide.

PM Abiy’s explanation of the gains and losses of Jews and Blacks, respectively, could be construed by many Americans as anti-Semitic and certainly racist and offensive to Blacks.   

Africa has seen self-hating leaders. To the chagrin of many, the late President and self-anointed emperor Jean Bédel Bokassa of Central Africa internalized the superiority of European civilization and showed so by replacing the teaching of African civilization with that of the Greeks.

Ivory Coast’s late Félix Houphouët-Boigny, one of the West’s main man in Sub-Sahara Africa, also sought pride in building one of the largest churches – the ignominious and disgracefully large church of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix in the middle of crushing poverty. It was no secret that he was more French than African.

All that pales when compared to what some of the West considers anti-semetic and racist invective comments by Ethiopia’s Abiy. He in no uncertain terms declared that ‘Jews control America’  and ‘Blacks failed to move on and look at the future.’

While PM Abiy in his comments recognizes past oppressions (‘Jikona’) suffered by both Jews and Blacks, he thinks the emancipation of the two communities started with the adoption of the US constitution, which he says was 200 years ago. He then adds how differently the two utilized such rights – that ‘jews used it positively’ and ‘Blacks wasted it.’

To my irritation, his excellency seems to forget that the US constitution was signed into law on September 17, 1787, not 200 years ago. Additionally, while Jew Americans were never restricted to vote or enslaved,  former [Black] slaves began to vote only in 1863. Even after emancipation and voting was legalized, for about one hundred years (1863-1963), Jim Crow laws were erroneously imposed on Blacks to restrict their abilities to freely vote. Jim Crow has a devastating and corrosive impact on Blacks since then.

His excellency Prime Minister Abiy shows here a big gap in understanding American history. This week June 19-25, America is observing the 99th year of the Tulsa massacre. This historic massacre resulted in the death of 300 Blacks and the destruction of more than 35 square blocks of the wealthiest black community (Greenwood District) in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street.” Black America never recovered from that.

The PM’s narrative deteriorates as he goes deeper into the subject matter of contrasting Jews and Blacks. After they gained their freedom, says Prime Minister Abiy, the Jews endorsed their history in a manner that does not close, darken, or contaminate the minds of their children but rather used it as a source of inspiration and a teaching guide to help them move to new and better frontiers.

On the contrary, his excellency adds,  Blacks chose to remain prisoners of their past by obsessively singing and talking about their hard times. With special emphasis – words sending scorn messages to Blacks  are stressed here – PM Abiy says that ‘Balcks failed to pass but rather parked on victimhood and decided to only teach, tell stories, or sing in their popular songs about the bygone days !

After establishing such a fallacious context which equated the two communities and their experiences, he unleashes his anti-sematic and racist rants in this way, and I paraphrase here : Today after two hundred years, ‘Jews control everything in America including knowledge, wealth, and political power.’

He stresses that the Jews are reaping the benefit of their good decisions and foresight of yesterday. With no reservation, he doubled down in that ‘in perspective, Blacks live for yesterday not for today. ‘They are singing for their children yesterday’s pain and that is their detriment.’

How does one absorb these comments coming from the leader of the second largest African country, that is Ethiopia – a country to which both Jews and Blacks pay homage. His audacity to say Blacks failed because of their inability to move beyond past painful history cannot be dismissed with the benign cliché of “ignorance is a bliss.” 

This should not easily be dismissed without first exposing these deplorable comments from one of Africa’s handful Nobel Laureate. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Peace.

Whether it is a measurement of lack of knowledge or not, his unchecked confidence in ignorance makes him comfortably argue that Jews control America’s knowledge, wealth, and political power. This is what one often hears from neo-Nazi groups. Such a comment may come across to Jews in the West as an anti-Jews stereotype.

Well, next time this Prime Minister wants to visit America or the West, he better organizes his facts handy to justify that Jews control America!’   As J.J. Goldberg warned about the pitfall of exaggerating Jewish power, “throughout these centuries, the image of the “powerful Jew” has figured prominently in anti-Jewish agitation.”

As to his evaluation of the Black experience, not only are his comments deeply racist, but there is also an obvious ignorance about American history and the impacts of systemic racism. Neither does he seem to understand the historiography of Slavery, Antebellum, Jim Craw and systemic white privilege and how that is detrimental to Blacks beyond 1863’s declaration of Black emancipation.  

Emperor Menelik’s statue in Addis Ababa burned
on 6/30/2020

Yes, there is a level of misunderstanding in Prime Minister Abiy’s assessment of the issues. Taken together with his infatuation of past histories of slave-owning kings of Ethiopia, and his rediscovery of the “glory” history of emperor Menelik at the expense of oppressed Ethiopians, one is justifiably must worry what else can PM Abiy do in his revisionist approach to Ethiopian history.

Following the murder of George Floyd, statues and colonial relics that signify slavery, colonialism and genocidal acts have been removed throughout the word. On the contrary, PM Abiy is in a spree of reviving and renovating the relics of Ethiopian unspoken history of slavery, colonialism, and humiliation of millions of ethnic nationals.

The question is whether that is possible in a country where Oromo and others have been colonized, humiliated, and treated as second class citizens. As this piece goes to the print, Oromo youth began to burn down colonial statues in Addis Ababa and elsewhere to react to the killing of an Oromo music icon, Hachalu Hendesa. I will look at this new development and the question of colonial statues in Ethiopia in an upcoming Part II of this series. 

Faisal A. Roble
Email: [email protected]
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Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.


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